Managing side effects of HIV treatment - HIV
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Managing side effects of HIV treatment

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. Many side effects can be improved through diet, exercise, and quality sleep; most side effects get better after about a week's time. 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 any changes in your health 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 and avoid sugary beverages and lots of caffeine
  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) as directed by your provider
  • Keep lights dim, wear sunglasses, or stay in darkened, quiet rooms
  • Try to get plenty of rest and practice quality sleep hygieneLink will take you outside the VA website.
Fatigue
  • Try low-impact exercise such as walking or aerobics as directed by your provider
  • Maintain adequate fluid intake and avoid sugary beverages and lots of caffeine
  • Try to get plenty of rest and practice quality sleep hygieneLink will take you outside the VA website.
  • Eat well-balanced meals every day
Insomnia
  • Try to get plenty of rest and practice quality sleep hygieneLink will take you outside the VA website.
  • Limit fluid intake 2 hours before bedtime to avoid having to get up to use the bathroom
  • Avoid chocolate and caffeinated products, especially in the afternoon and at night
  • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime
  • Try a glass of warm milk (contains tryptophan, a natural sleep agent)
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/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
  • Talk to your provider about over-the-counter antacids or other medications
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 milk products until diarrhea resolves
  • Maintain adequate fluid intake and avoid sugary beverages and caffeine
  • 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
  • Avoid raw or undercooked fish, chicken, and meat
  • Let your provider know if you take metformin which can be boosted by certain HIV medications and cause loose stool
  • Your provider may recommend treatments such as loperamide (Imodium) or methylcellulose (Citrucel) or psyllium (Metamucil)
Dry skin/rashes
  • Maintain adequate fluid intake and avoid sugary beverages and lots of caffeine
  • 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
  • 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 provider immediately, 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