Tips for Common Side Effects of HIV Medications - HIV
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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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Decrease your work schedule if possible
  • Eat well-balanced meals every day
  • Talk to your provider about the possibility that you have anemia or other medical problems. Anemia means that you have a low red blood cell count, and it can make you feel tired
  • 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
  • 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 milk products until diarrhea resolves
  • Maintain adequate fluid intake (at least 6-8 8 oz glasses per day)
  • Stay away from foods high in insoluble fiber, such as whole grains, brown rice, bran, or the skins of vegetables and fruits. These kinds of foods can make diarrhea worse
  • Don't eat too many greasy, high-fiber, or very sweet foods
  • Don't take in too much caffeine
  • Avoid raw or undercooked fish, chicken, and meat
  • 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
  • A rash that blisters, or involves your mouth, the palms of your hands, or the soles of your feet, or one that is accompanied by shortness of breath, can be dangerous: contact your care provider right away, or go to an emergency room for evaluation
Dry Mouth
  • Rinse your mouth throughout the day with warm, salted water
  • Carry sugarless candies, lozenges, or crushed ice with you to cool the mouth and give it moisture
  • Try slippery elm or licorice tea (available in health food stores). They can moisten the mouth, and they taste great!
  • Ask your VA provider about mouth rinse and other products to treat your dry mouth