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Tips for Common Side Effects of HIV Medications

for Veterans and the Public

Tips for Common Side Effects

Here is a list of symptoms, or side effects, that some people experience when they start taking HIV medications, along with some suggestions for what you can do at home to manage them. Because what seems like a side effect may actually be a sign of a more serious condition, such as a drug toxicity or an infection, be sure to discuss your symptoms with your medical provider.

If you are having a serious or persistent side effect, you should seek medical attention promptly.
Side EffectWhat to Do
Headache
  • Maintain adequate fluid intake
  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) as directed by your provider
  • Keep lights dim, wear sunglasses, or stay in darkened rooms
  • Try to get plenty of rest
Fatigue
  • Try low-impact exercise such as walking or low-impact aerobics as directed by your provider
  • Drink 8-12 glasses of water per day (may have a caffeinated beverage in the morning)
  • Take a short nap during the day
  • Lessen your work schedule if possible
  • Eat well-balanced meals every day
Insomnia
  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
  • Do not read or watch television in bed
  • Limit daytime naps
  • Limit fluid intake for 2 hours before bedtime to avoid having to get up to go to the bathroom
  • Avoid caffeinated products, especially in the afternoon and at night
  • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime
  • Take warm baths, read or listen to music, get a massage
  • Try a glass of warm milk (contains tryptophan, a natural sleep agent)
  • Your medical provider may recommend other treatments
Poor appetite
  • Eat smaller, more frequent (4-6) meals throughout the day
  • Drink protein drinks (such as Carnation Instant Breakfast, Ensure, or Boost)
Nausea and vomiting
  • Eat small meals
  • Avoid foods or smells that trigger nausea; try eating cold foods and avoiding cooking smells
  • Eat healthy foods; avoid greasy, spicy, acidic, or sweet foods
  • Try eating ginger: in ginger tea, ginger ale, or gingersnaps
  • Eat some crackers or dry white toast if you feel sick in the morning
  • Over-the-counter antacids or other medications may be recommended by your provider
Diarrhea
  • Eat more soluble fiber such as Bananas, white Rice, Applesauce and white Toast (the "BRAT" diet)
  • Avoid foods that are spicy or acidic (such as citrus)
  • Avoid dairy products until diarrhea resolves
  • Maintain adequate fluid intake (at least 6-8 8 oz glasses per day)
  • Your provider may recommend treatments such as calcium, loperamide (Imodium) or methylcellulose (Citrucel) or psyllium (Metamucil)
Dry skin/ rashes
  • Drink 8-12 glasses of water per day
  • Avoid long, hot showers or baths
  • Avoid soaps and skin products that contain alcohols or harsh chemicals
  • Use moisturizing lotion after showers (such as Aquaphor, Absorbase, Lac-Hydrin)
  • Use mild unscented laundry detergents and avoid fabric softeners
  • Use sunscreen
  • Try rubbing or pressing on the itchy areas rather than scratching
  • Use petroleum jelly on dry, itchy areas; your provider may recommend other agents to help
Injection site reactions
  • Before injecting, warm your medicine by gently rolling the syringe in your hands for a minute
  • Rotate your injection sites
  • Do not inject into an area that is irritated, bruised, or red
  • Apply a cold pack after injection
  • Review your injection technique with your provider; consider using smaller-gauge needles
  • Your provider may recommend medications to help