HIV Treatment

Today’s Advances in HIV Treatment - Understanding the Basics of HIV Care

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Today’s HIV treat­ment encom­pass­es a series of med­ica­tions tak­en to slow the virus­es progress in the body. It’s impor­tant to remem­ber- though we are con­stant­ly mak­ing new advance­ments in the field of HIV/AIDS treat­ment, there is still no cure for the disease.

Anti­retro­vi­ral HIV Treatment

The drugs giv­en to com­bat the dis­ease are called Anti­retro­vi­rals’, or anti­retro­vi­ral ther­a­py, HIV being a form of retro­virus. ARTs are accom­pa­nied by oth­er ARTs when tak­en, many used since the mid 1990’s. Though there isn’t yet a cure in exis­tence, ARTs can help keep a patient healthy for many years, even pre­vent­ing end stage HIV- AIDS- from ever devel­op­ing. This is the stan­dard treat­ment rec­om­mend­ed for any­one suf­fer­ing from HIV, no mat­ter how long they’ve had the HIV virus.

Viral Load: ARTs both help reduce and keep down a patient’s viral load, or the amount of virus in their body & bod­i­ly flu­ids. Not only do they effec­tive­ly slow the pro­gres­sion of HIV, anti­retro­vi­ral ther­a­py can make it all but impos­si­ble to trans­mit the virus to others.

How Does Anti­retro­vi­ral Treat­ment Work?

Antivi­ral med­ica­tions actu­al­ly inhib­it cer­tain steps in the HIV repli­ca­tion process, slow­ing the HIV infec­tion itself. The med­ica­tions are used in com­bi­na­tion every day in a reg­i­men devel­oped by a spe­cial­ized physi­cian, rec­om­mend­ed to every HIV patient. 

Essen­tial­ly, these med­ica­tions pre­vent the HIV virus from cre­at­ing copies of itself, dras­ti­cal­ly slow­ing the spread of HIV in the body and giv­ing the immune sys­tem an oppor­tu­ni­ty to recov­er. There is always going to be some HIV in the body, but now the immune sys­tem is strong enough to fight off infections.

  • ART works by keep­ing your viral load low, there­by giv­ing your immune sys­tem oppor­tu­ni­ty to recover.

Rotavirus: A retro­virus can be described as a kind of RNA virus that injects a copy of its genet­ic code into a host cell, there­by alter­ing the genet­ic struc­ture of that cell. HIV is a retro­virus, alter­ing cells of the body into mak­ing copies of itself.

The Impor­tance of HIV Treatment

HIV works by attack­ing spe­cial­ized white blood cells nor­mal­ly meant to fight infec­tions in the body. After infect­ing a CD4 cell’, the HIV virus will con­vert that cell to a virus pro­duc­ing fac­to­ry’ to sim­ply man­u­fac­ture more virus­es, instead of the white blood cells it was meant to. With­out treat­ment to com­bat the dis­ease, more and more cells will be pro­duc­ing more and more virus, which in turn attack more cells and con­tin­u­ous­ly decrease the amount of healthy CD4 cells while increas­ing viral load, and the sys­tem con­tin­ues to feed itself. 

That seemed like a lot! Very sim­ply said, HIV will attack and cause great harm to your immune sys­tem if not treat­ed. This opens the door to oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions, many of which a healthy per­son might nev­er even notice, to do exten­sive damage. 

  • With today’s advance­ments in med­ical treat­ment and ARTs, many peo­ple with HIV are liv­ing just as long as peo­ple without! 
  • In many cas­es, ARTs allow peo­ple suf­fer­ing from HIV to have the same rela­tion­ships and start fam­i­lies just like those without. 
  • ARTs can even low­er a person’s viral load to unde­tectable lev­els, mean­ing it exists in their bod­ies in such small quan­ti­ties that there is no risk of trans­mis­sion, and no adverse effect on their health. 
  • Stop­ping treat­ment will cause viral load to go back up.

Dis­cuss HIV Treat­ment with Your Doctor

It’s very nor­mal to feel wor­ried or scared regard­ing treat­ment, or HIV in gen­er­al. This can lead some­one to ignore the prob­lem, choos­ing to for­get rather than stress over the solu­tion. Ignor­ing the prob­lem is one of the absolute worst things one can do, cre­at­ing a dan­ger for both the patients and those around them.

Once you edu­cate your­self, you’ll find that HIV is not that scary at all! 

When Should You Begin HIV Treatment?

The U.S. Depart­ment of Health & Human Ser­vices rec­om­mends anti­retro­vi­ral ther­a­py begin as soon as pos­si­ble for the patient after they’ve received a pos­i­tive diag­no­sis. The ear­li­er treat­ment is start­ed, the less dam­age the HIV virus can do to the body. Ear­ly treat­ment also helps keep viral load low, which in turn decreas­es the dam­age the virus can do. 

  • Today’s HIV treat­ments need to be tak­en every day for the rest of the patient’s life, although the require­ments have dimin­ished great­ly since the mid 90’s.
  • There are sev­er­al dif­fer­ent kinds of ART drugs and drug com­bi­na­tions. Be sure to dis­cuss which one are right for you with your health­care provider! 

Are There Side Effects with Anti­retro­vi­ral Treatment?

As with many med­ical treat­ments meant to com­bat a dis­ease so dras­tic, there are pos­si­ble side effects a patient might expect. Not every patient is going to expe­ri­ence side effects of the treat­ment, and these side effects are with­out a doubt prefer­able to the revenges AIDS can cause. Thank­ful­ly, the ART’s devel­oped today car­ry few­er side effects, and the ones that do occur will vary from per­son to per­son, case to case. Be sure to tell your doc­tor about any side affects you might be expe­ri­enc­ing, and treat­ment options.

  • Nau­sea
  • Vom­it­ing
  • Lack of sleep
  • Diar­rhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Rash
  • Dizzi­ness
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
    • Tak­ing cer­tain kinds or recre­ation­al drugs, out­side of their obvi­ous detri­ment to your already com­pro­mised health, can cause cer­tain kinds of ARTs to stop work­ing correctly. 
    • Most ARTs are tak­en once a day, some­times with and some­times with­out food. In the mid 90’s, it wasn’t uncom­mon to take 20 tablets a day; treat­ment has made great advances. 

HIV Treat­ment for Children

Just like adults, ART can help keep a child with HIV healthy, let­ting them lead the same nor­mal, ful­fill­ing life as every­one else! Just like adults, its rec­om­mend­ed chil­dren with HIV start treat­ment as soon as pos­si­ble. With­out treat­ment, HIV will pro­gres­sive­ly dam­age a child’s immune sys­tem, just like an adult. Depend­ing on their age, young chil­dren may already have a weak­ened immune sys­tem (com­pared to a healthy adult), so HIV can be espe­cial­ly dan­ger­ous if untreated.

  • Moth­ers can trans­mit HIV via breast milk. 
  • HIV can be spread from moth­er to child dur­ing preg­nan­cy or childbirth.
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