Finding out you have HIV can be an emotional experience, and it is natural to have mixed feelings and lots of questions. What’s important to remember is that although this news may be shocking, HIV doesn’t have to stop you from living a long and fulfilling life.
Medical technology has advanced so greatly that you can expect to live just as long as someone who doesn’t have HIV. With the right treatment and care, you can continue on living your life to the fullest and doing whatever you want in life.
Know there is a network of people here to support you and help you access the care you need.
HIV treatment involves taking medicines that slow the progression of the virus in your body. HIV is a type of virus called a retrovirus, and the combination of drugs used to treat it is called antiretroviral therapy (ART).
ART has truly come a long way from what it used to be. HIV can be effectively managed with as little as one pill a day to the point where the HIV becomes undetectable in your body. Once the HIV becomes undetectable, it actually significantly minimizes the risk of you spreading HIV to another partner. Plus, ART has the ability to restore quality of life making life expectancy the same for someone who has HIV and is taking ART compared to someone without HIV.
If the HIV medication you’ve been prescribed is not working as well as it should, your health care provider may change your prescription. A change is not unusual as the same treatment does not affect everyone in the same way.
Additionally, be sure to let your health care provider know about any medical conditions, plans for children, or any other medicines you are taking. This way they can ensure the ART you are prescribed works best for your body and lifestyle.
If you live in Southern Alberta, the Southern Alberta Clinic (SAC) in the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre will be your go to place for any HIV care or treatment. The Sheldon Chumir Health Centre is located at 1213 4th Street SW, Calgary, AB and can be contacted at 403-955-6399.
For anyone living in Lethbridge or Southern Alberta as a whole, treatment and medical services are available for HIV through the Southern Alberta Clinic (SAC). These services are fully covered for people across Canada by their provincial health care. If you are HIV+, all you need is your provincial health card to access the treatment you need.
Southern Alberta Clinic services include:
- An intake appointment. During this appointment you will meet with a nurse and social worker to provide an introduction to SAC and education about HIV.
- The initial medical visit. At this appointment a complete medical history is taken, your test results are reviewed, and a HIV care management plan is made.
- Follow-up appointments. These appointments usually take place about one month after the initial medical visit, and then every three to six months after that.
- Nursing services. Nursing services coordinate care within the clinic and with other agencies, and provide HIV education.
- A pharmacy. The pharmacy provides medication counselling and dispenses HIV medication.
You can be referred by a doctor or you can self-refer if you’re new to Alberta. Contact the Southern Alberta Clinic (SAC) by phone at 403-955-6399 or online here.
If you live in Lethbridge and have barriers preventing you from accessing the Southern Alberta Clinic for treatment, you can refer to our Stigma-Free HIV/HCV Advocacy Prevention Education & Support (SHAPES) tab to learn more about how ARCHES can support you in getting your HIV treatment.
Taking care of your physical health can be especially beneficial to those who are HIV positive. Ensuring you get adequate physical activity, eating a balanced diet, and refraining or reducing your smoking habits are just a few ways to maintain good physical health. Since HIV impacts the immune system, staying physically healthy is the ideal way to keep your body as strong as possible to fight off any illnesses, have the best response to any antiretroviral therapy (ART), and reduce your overall chance of HIV turning into AIDS.
HIV and the medications used to control it can have many long-term effects on our bones, major organs, hormones, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Even when controlled by antiretroviral therapy (ART), HIV causes chronic inflammation that can have cumulative effects on all the major organs and systems of the body. In the brain, this inflammation can lead to cognitive impairment of varying degrees. In the bones, it can lead to accelerated loss of bone density. People with HIV are also at greater risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and kidney problems. Just as there are many possible long-term effects of HIV and its treatment, there are also many ways, especially if we know our HIV status early on, that we can take our health in hand to prevent or resolve them.
For a full comprehensive guide on living a healthy life with HIV, find CATIE’s “A Practical Guide to A Healthy Body for People Living with HIV” here.
Mental health challenges are very common throughout an individual’s lifetime, and almost every person will face mental illness as some point. Major stresses—like the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, or moving—can have a major impact on mental health. Having a serious illness, like HIV, can be another source of major stress. You may find that living with HIV challenges your sense of well-being or complicates existing mental health conditions.
Our bodies and minds are very connected, and we recognize that living with HIV can be stressful and challenge our emotional wellbeing. Similarly, stress and anxiety can affect our bodies. This is why maintaining a healthy mind in a healthy body is key. Maintaining good emotional health is a balance of the physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual wellbeing, and it can often be strengthened by love, friendship, supports, and a sense of fitting in in your community. When we are in a good place emotionally it makes it easier to feel and express a full range of emotions and feel better equipped to tackle life’s problems.
To take care of our mental health we must care for our body and mind together. Some tips to self care include:
- Find people to talk to.
- As a person living with HIV you may at times feel lonely or isolated. Even though it may be difficult to do so, now is the time to seek out understanding friends, family, and community members who can provide empathy, support, and help you explore your resources. In addition to or instead of family and friends, there may supportive counselling and support services in your community to lean on.
- Eat well, sleep enough, and exercise!
- Taking care of your body will give a solid foundation to build your emotional health. Many people with HIV also find tat adding vitamin and mineral supplements to their diet helps them to maintain good physical and emotional health. Getting a good night’s sleep of 8-10 hours is also key to our emotional wellness to ensure we are well rested and give our body a chance to rejuvenate to tackle our next day. Doing moderate amounts of exercise on a regular basis is something significant that you can do to build not just your muscles but also your emotional health. Studies show that exercise is effective for treating mild to moderate depression and reducing anxiety.
- Try complimentary therapies.
- A number of complimentary therapies can support your mental health by either treating the underlying problem or relieving symptoms of the problem. These therapies include acupuncture, light therapy, hypnotherapy, and aromatherapy.
- Seek professional help.
- In addition to the support of friends, family, and others living with HIV, you may also want to seek professional help. A trustworthy and supportive healthcare provider can help you navigate your emotional and physical health.
For more information on fostering emotional wellness with HIV, click here for CATIE’s guide on HIV and Emotional Wellness.
It’s great news that people with HIV are paying attention to issues around aging. It means we are surviving and getting older like the rest of the population! We need to take good care of ourselves, be proactive and pay attention to changes in our bodies as we age.
Early diagnosis of HIV is important no matter what your age; however, the older you are, the more critical early diagnosis becomes. This is because HIV progresses more quickly in older people. The good news is that anti-HIV drugs work just as well whether you’re 52 or 25, and quality of life can be maintained as long as you are taking care of your body.
Some tips for maintaining a healthy life with HIV while aging include:
- Get involved in your community to combat isolation and provide meaningful connections.
- Create a strong social support network of people who bring you joy.
- Exercise your mind and stay mentally active.
- Manage stress and depression.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Sleep well.
- Get outdoors and exercise physically.
- Cultivate a positive outlook.
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid binge drinking or excessive alcohol use.
- Have a spiritual practice.
- Have a healthy sexual relationship and care for your sexual health.
For more information on HIV and aging, read CATIE’s HIV and Aging guide here.
It is important to remember that living with HIV does not need to impact your life in any negative way. If an individual receives treatment and regularly takes their medication, they can maintain the same quality of life as someone who is HIV negative. HIV is something that is a part of you and you should feel no stigma or shame around that. As long as you are taking care of yourself and being mindful of any partners, that’s what matters most. If you are HIV+, take treatment and maintain an undetectable viral load, you can have sex knowing that you won’t pass HIV to your sex partner. In short, when HIV is undetectable, it’s untransmittable.
Navigating how you disclose your HIV status can be complex, and there are many resources to help support you and guide you through this process. Feel free to visit out HIV Disclosure tab to find tips and resources to support you no matter how you’re feeling.
AVERT works to ensure widespread knowledge and understanding of HIV and AIDS, in order to reduce infections and improve the lives of those affected. They aim to do this by promoting innovative approaches, information, partnerships and action to inform and empower.
The Tribe is an online peer-to-peer support group for individuals or family living with HIV/AIDS, newly diagnosed to long-term survivors.
The Sex You Want is a fun and informative website geared towards safer sex practices and HIV for men who have sex with men.
CATIE offers a comprehensive overview for information on preventing, treating, and living with HIV.
The Alberta HIV Information Hotline is available for support in navigating resources and treatment for HIV in your community. Call 1-800-772-2437 for the Alberta HIV Information Hotline today.