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When you’re first diagnosed with HIV, you might feel alone and worried about the future. You may worry that the disease will change your relationships or lower your quality of life.

In time, you’ll learn that you can still live a full, joyful life with HIV, and grow to old age. You can have intimate relationships, including with people who are HIV negative. You can pursue a career you love and give back to your community.

Learn more about UPMC’s HIV services

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Finding a Care Provider and Starting Treatment

A recent study in the United States found that a young adult diagnosed HIV positive can expect to live just as long as someone who is HIV negative. That’s incredible progress, compared to when HIV medicines were first introduced. Thirty years ago, HIV drugs added only 12 years onto life expectancy.

The key to effectively treating HIV is starting treatment as soon as you can, and taking your medicine consistently.

HIV medicines today have fewer side effects and are far less toxic, and even more promising ones are in development. While people with HIV once took handfuls of daily pills, today one or two daily pills is enough to treat HIV.

Your family doctor may already treat patients with HIV and be comfortable managing your condition. If not, your family doctor may refer you to someone who specializes in HIV care. Or you can find a doctor to treat your HIV using this link.

Don’t worry if you are low income or don’t have medical insurance. The Ryan White program supports medical care and treatment for people with HIV in the U.S.

Sharing Your Status and Finding Emotional Support

You don’t have to tell people that you’re HIV positive. Sharing your status with close friends and family members can help with the anxiety that many experience when they’re diagnosed. Your friends and family will support you as you navigate your health care and disclose your status to others. Your doctor can help you disclose your status to others with your permission.

If you may have exposed previous sexual partners to HIV, they need to know. If you don’t feel comfortable telling them, your local public health department can call your former partners. The health official will tell them that they may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection and offer them testing, including HIV testing. Your name will not be mentioned.

You don’t have to tell your employer that you are HIV positive. You’ll be glad to know that it’s illegal to discriminate against someone in the U.S. because of their HIV status. Government and nonprofit websites have more advice on talking about HIV with friends, coworkers, employers, and health providers.

Building Strong Relationships

You can have intimate relationships, just as you did before. Both male and female condoms prevent HIV transmission. However, condoms that go on the penis are more effective than condoms inserted in the vagina.

Once medicines have suppressed the virus to undetectable levels in the blood, people with HIV can talk about having unprotected sex with HIV negative partners. That’s because HIV transmission is virtually impossible at the undetectable stage. Usually, people get to this point within 6 months of treatment.

Often potential partners won’t see HIV as an obstacle to a relationship. However, some may want to take extra time to learn about HIV and transmission risks. It’s imperative to notify all sexual partners that you have HIV, In some states, not disclosing this is a criminal offense.

It’s equally important to be careful about sex with a person who also is HIV positive. That’s because you could become infected with a different strain of HIV, which can make your medicines less effective.

Staying Healthy

Everyone should eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise and lower stress. A healthy lifestyle is even more important for people with HIV. Many people say their HIV diagnosis motivated them to focus more on their physical, mental, and emotional health.

One way to reduce your anxiety is to connect with others with HIV, virtually or in person. Local HIV advocacy and treatment centers can direct you to peer support groups in your area. You’ll see that you, too, can live a healthy, happy, and full life with HIV.

Sources

Avert. Sharing your HIV status. Link

CDC. Living with HIV. Link

Dr. Julia Marcus et al. Comparison of Overall and Comorbidity-Free Life Expectancy Between Insured Adults With and Without HIV Infection, 2000-2016. Jama Network Open. Link

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 10 things to Know About HIV Suppression. Link

Office of Women's Health. HIV Prevention. Link

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.