Next Steps After an HIV Diagnosis
An HIV diagnosis is the beginning of a lifelong health journey, and it’s understandable to experience many different emotions as you process this information. Remember that HIV is manageable, like many other chronic health conditions, and with treatment, you can live a full and active life. Though it may feel overwhelming to take action right after a diagnosis, getting started on HIV medication as soon as possible is critical to protecting your health and others. Here are the most important steps to take as you move forward.
Starting antiretroviral therapy (ART)
More than half of all individuals living with HIV in the U.S. are not at risk of transmitting the virus to others. This is a testament to the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy (ART), the frontline treatment for HIV.
ART is a combination of medications that stops the progression of HIV and reduces your viral load — the amount of HIV in your blood — to a very low level. When taken as prescribed every day, these medications can help you maintain an undetectable viral load, which preserves the strength of your immune system and protects the health of your sexual partners. Many people living with HIV are able to achieve an undetectable viral load within six months of starting ART.
Finding a healthcare provider for HIV treatment
There are several ways to find a healthcare provider for HIV treatment. If you already have a primary care provider, they may have the experience and knowledge to treat your HIV. If not, they will likely be able to give you a referral. Similarly, if you were tested for HIV at a clinic, ask if they offer ongoing HIV treatment or can refer you elsewhere. You can also use HIV.gov’s search tool to find HIV treatment services near you.
There’s a lot of information to take in when first starting HIV treatment. Having open conversations with your doctor about your questions and concerns can help you feel empowered about your health. It may help you to prepare a list of questions before your first appointment. Here are some suggestions to use as a starting point.
- How will you decide which ART medications are best for me?
- How will I know if the medication is working?
- What is the frequency of follow-up testing and blood work?
- Will I get other infections?
- Are there things I cannot do because I am HIV positive?
- How does HIV affect my reproductive health? (if relevant)
Learning more about HIV and preventing transmission
Living with HIV often feels more manageable when you’re equipped with facts and confident in your understanding of the condition. In addition to asking questions during doctor’s appointments, explore trusted resources like the CDC's website and HIV.gov to familiarize yourself with the basics of HIV treatment and prevention.
Many individuals are concerned about the risk of potentially transmitting HIV to a partner. There are things you can do to prevent transmission and keep your sexual partners safe. Being consistent with HIV treatment in the long term can virtually eliminate your risk of transmitting HIV to others so long as you maintain an undetectable viral load. This is why one of the most important things you can do, for both your health and others, is to start ART as soon as possible. In addition, your partner or partners may want to speak with their doctors about PrEP, an HIV prevention medication that can lower risk of sexual transmission of HIV by 99% when taken daily. Many individuals who have an HIV-positive partner take PrEP for HIV prevention.
Sharing your HIV status with others
You may be wondering who to tell about your HIV diagnosis. While sharing your HIV status with sexual partners may feel uncomfortable or scary, it will allow them to take steps to protect their health. Some states have laws that require you to share your HIV status with sexual partners. These laws also account for the risk of HIV transmission through intravenous drug use and require you to disclose your HIV status with anyone you share drugs or needles with, if relevant.
Sharing your HIV status with all of your healthcare providers is also important. It will allow them to provide individualized health recommendations, coordinate with the rest of your care team, and take appropriate precautions during blood draws and other procedures.
Many individuals living with HIV find it helpful to share their status with close friends and family as they process their diagnosis. Each person’s experience of HIV is unique, and deciding if and when to tell loved ones about your status is a personal choice. It can be helpful to hear how others decided to share their HIV status. The CDC has a collection of stories about life with HIV, and Positive Spin is another resource highlighting personal experiences of HIV.
The stress of living with any chronic condition can impact your mental and emotional well-being, and those with HIV have a higher chance of developing mental health disorders such as depression.
It’s important to take your mental health as seriously as your physical health and seek any support you need. Use your HIV treatment provider as a resource. They may be able to recommend treatment or prescribe medication, if needed, or refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist for additional support.
Navigate HIV treatment with Alto by your side
Our pharmacists have deep expertise in HIV treatment and prevention and can help you get started with antiretroviral therapy. We will coordinate with your doctor and your insurance provider, if applicable, to ensure that you’re receiving the best option for your needs at the best price. To learn more, reach out any time through in-app secure messaging or by phone at 1-800-874-5881.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.