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Getting diagnosed with HIV: Work with your doctor

for Veterans and the Public

Work with your provider

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. If ignored, it can lead to illness and death. This is why it is so important to get medical care and start treatment if you find out you have HIV. Please see a doctor or nurse practitioner with experience in treating pfeople with HIV--he or she can help you to stay well. Most VA clinicians who treat HIV are specialists in infectious disease. They work with a team of other health professionals who focus on HIV as a chronic, or lifelong, disease.

Treatments for HIV are not perfect (no medicine is), but are very tolerable and extremely effective for most people. They also work very well to minimize the chance that you may transmit HIV to sex partners (for pregnant women they also decrease the risk of infecting the baby). A doctor or other health care provider can explain the best options for you.

If you work with your health care provider in planning your care, you can deal with the disease in a way that is best for you.

Before appointments

Start with a list or notebook. Prepare for your appointment with your doctor by writing down:

  1. any questions that you have (print out questions to ask your doctor and take it to your appointment)
  2. any symptoms or problems you want to tell the doctor about (include symptoms such as poor sleep, trouble concentrating, feeling tired)
  3. a list of the medications that you are taking (include herbs and vitamins), including a list of any HIV medications you have taken in the past and any HIV-related problems you have had when taking them.
  4. upcoming tests or new information you've heard about
  5. changes in your living situation, such as a job change

That way you won't forget anything during the appointment.

You may want to ask a friend or family member to come with you and take notes. It can be difficult for you to take notes and pay attention to what your doctor is saying at the same time.

During appointments

Go over your lab results, and keep track of them. If your health care provider wants you to have some medical tests, make sure you understand what the test is for and what your provider will do with the results. If you don't understand what your medical provider is saying, ask him/her to explain it in everyday terms.

If you feel your provider has forgotten something during the appointment, it is better to ask about it than to leave wondering whether something was supposed to happen that didn't. It's your right to ask questions of your provider. You also have a legal right to see your medical records. After all, it's your body.

Be honest. Your provider isn't there to judge you, but to make decisions based on your particular circumstances. Tell your doctor about your sexual or drug use history. These behaviors can put you at risk of getting other sexually transmitted diseases as well as hepatitis. If your body is fighting off these other diseases, it will not be able to fight off HIV as effectively. You may get sicker, faster.

If you have sex with someone of the same sex or someone other than your spouse, it's OK to tell your medical provider. You cannot get kicked out of the VA or lose your benefits if you have sex with someone of your same sex, or someone other than your spouse.