If you are HIV positive, you need a doctor. And not just any doctor – you need an infectious disease specialist who focuses on HIV. HIV is a complex disease with complex treatments, and only a doctor who specializes in it’s treatment can really keep up with the latest information.
If You Are Newly Diagnosed, Where Do You Start?
To help you locate the right doctor, contact an AIDS Service Organization (ASO) in your vicinity, a support group, talk to people who are HIV positive that you might know or many community and county health facilities might be able to point you in the right direction.
Get a list of 3-to-4 doctors and interview them if this is possible for you factoring in cost, travel, insurance and other individual considerations. Remember your doctor is your choice. Choose one that you feel comfortable with and can be open with – Communication is very important with HIV.
Get Ready For Your First Appointment.
Your first appointment is an important one. Getting organized before you see your HIV doctor will help you make the most out of the visit. Here’s a checklist of important tips:
Learn As Much As You Can About HIV Before Your Appointment.
The more you know in advance, the more efficient and productive your visit will be. You can learn about HIV from magazines like this one, on the internet, by picking up informative pamphlets at your local ASO, health clinic or doctor’s office.
Don’t expect your doctor to educate you about HIV during your visit – there just isn’t enough time. The more you know, the easier it will be to understand what the doctor tells you. It also helps you to ask better questions and ultimately be a better patient.
Bring A Notebook And A Pen
While you’re researching and learning about HIV, there’s bound to be things you don’t understand and some things you can’t find answers to. Before your visit, write down the questions in a notebook. Take the notebook to your appointment, and make sure to write down the doctor’s answers. A doctor’s appointment is a stressful experience – especially if it is your first as a patient with HIV! This is no time to rely on your memory. You might also want to bring a trusted, level-headed friend or family member to the appointment with you. That way, the two of you can compare notes later on.
You know it’s not healthy to smoke, do drugs, drink to excess, or have promiscuous sex. So you’re tempted to “forget” things you don’t think your doctor wants to hear or things that might embarrass you or make you uncomfortable.
Don’t do it! Your doctor is not there to judge you. He’s there to help you. But he can only help you if he knows what is really going on. So tell the truth – the whole truth. Answer every question honestly, and don’t even think about leaving anything out - Your life could depend on it!
Ask For Clarification.
If you don’t ask questions, your doctor will assume you understand everything perfectly and you don’t want or need any more information. So, by all means, speak up when you don’t know the meaning of a word, the meaning of a test, what a count or reading means, or when instructions aren’t clear. You can also repeat what you think the doctor means in your own words, and see if that’s correct.
Being able to ask and then have answered questions is part of the comfort zone and rapport you should have with your doctor – you shouldn’t be intimidated.
What You Can Expect At The Doctor’s Office
On your first visit to an HIV doctor, he will ask you questions about your health and lifestyle, conduct a physical exam, and order blood tests. Women should also have a pregnancy test and a gynecologic examination with Pap smear.
Tests your doctor orders will almost certainly include a CD4 count and a viral load test. You should also have drug resistance testing. The results will provide a baseline measurement for future tests.
The CD4 count, (also called “CD4+T cell” count, or simply “T-cell” count) measures a type of white blood cell that fights infection. HIV destroys CD4 cells, weakening your body’s immune system. A CD4 count is the number of CD4 cells (or “T-cells”) in a sample of blood. The more CD4 cells you have, the better.
Viral Load Test
The viral load test measures the amount of HIV – the number of copies of the virus – you have in a sample of blood. This test shows how well your immune system is controlling the virus. The smaller the viral load number, the better. Ultimately, with treatment, you will try to get your viral load below 50 copies, which is known as “undetectable.”
Drug Resistance Testing
Drug resistance testing determines if your HIV strain is resistant to any anti-HIV medications. HIV can mutate (changing form), resulting in HIV that cannot be controlled with certain medications.
Your Doctor May Also Order:
-Complete blood count
Depending on the results of your initial tests, you and your doctor may decide that you don’t need to go on medications right away. But you still need to see your doctor regularly.
HIV positive people who have not started taking medications should have a viral load test every 3-4 months and a CD4 count every 3-6 months. You and your doctor will use the test results to monitor your infection and to decide when to start treatment.
Once you begin taking anti-HIV medications, you will continue taking them for the rest of your life. So make sure you and your doctor discuss exactly what your regimen will consist of – how many pills, how often a day – as well as strategies to help you stick to your treatment.
Take heart! Everyone goes through a whole series of wrenching emotions when they learn they are infected with HIV. But listen: It’s not going to be as bad as you think! HIV is not a death sentence anymore.
But it is a serious chronic disease that you have to keep under control! The first step is to find a doctor who specializes in HIV and make that first appointment. Find out exactly where you stand, and what you need to do. And take it from there, one step at a time. You can do it!
Copyright 2015, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
This magazine is intended to enhance your relationship with your doctor - not replace it! Medical treatments and products should always be discussed with a licensed physician who has experience treating HIV and AIDS!