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Taking care of yourself

HIV shouldn’t stop you living a long, healthy and active life.  

If you take your antiretroviral treatment and look after your health you can expect to live as long as someone who doesn’t have HIV. 

Read on for tips on ways to look after your health. 

How can I stay healthy if I have HIV?

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Take your HIV treatment 

Starting treatment as soon as possible is the first step to taking care of yourself.  

It’s important to take your HIV treatment as prescribed, which usually means every day at the same time. If you don’t do this, your medication might not work properly. 

Eat healthily 

Try to eat a balanced diet, without too much processed fat, sugar or salt.  

If you are underweight, overweight, have a dietary problem (like a regular upset stomach) or treatment side effects that make it hard to eat, ask your healthcare professional for help. 

Exercise regularly and sleep well   

Being active builds muscle, burns fat, and keeps your bones strong and your heart healthy. It is also a great way to manage stress and depression.  

Don’t drink too much or take too many drugs  

Drinking too much alcohol or taking too many recreational drugs is not good for anyone’s health. These things weaken your immune system, which is particularly important to look after when you have HIV. 

Being drunk or high might make you forget to take your HIV medication, which can make it less effective. 

If you are on HIV treatment you might get side effects from alcohol or recreational drugs. If you are worried about this, have an honest conversation with your healthcare professional.  

If you smoke, try to quit  

People with HIV are at higher risk of heart and lung conditions. If you smoke, you should consider quitting. Your healthcare professional can support you with this. 

Look after your mental health  

This is just as important as taking care of your body!  

Find out more about looking after your mental health. 

Look after your teeth and mouth 

Teeth and mouth issues can be common for people with HIV. Having a weakened immune system can contribute to oral health problems. Also, side effects of some HIV treatment can cause problems in the mouth.

Regular brushing, flossing and seeing your dentist can help with this.  

Have regular check-ups with your healthcare professional  

Your healthcare professional will monitor your progress and can advise you on ways to stay healthy. 

What are the risks if I don’t look after my health?

HIV increases your risk of getting certain conditions so it’s especially important to look after yourself.  

HIV and other health conditions

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What should a balanced diet include?

Nutritional advice for people with HIV is the same as for anyone else.  

It’s important to eat a balanced and varied diet. This should include: 

  • staple foods, like rice, potatoes, cereals and bread 

  • legumes, like lentils and beans 

  • food from animal sources, like meat, fish, eggs and dairy 

  • lots of fruit and vegetables.

HIV and drinking: what are the risks?

Some studies have shown that people with HIV may be more affected by alcohol than other people, especially if they are not on HIV treatment. This can be dangerous, as being drunk lowers people’s sense of risk and can make them less in control of their body. 

Heavy drinking can weaken the immune system, making it harder to recover from infections. 

Alcohol can also damage the liver, which the body uses to process HIV drugs. This can cause side-effects. If someone with HIV also has hepatitis – a common co-infection with HIV – liver damage can be even more serious.  

Some antiretroviral drugs can cause blood fat increases, which drinking heavily can make worse. This can increase the risk of heart diseases. 

People with HIV should try to drink within the recommended limits.  

HIV and smoking: what are the risks?

Smoking is bad for anyone's health, but some studies suggest that people with HIV are more likely to die due to smoking than other people. 

Smoking makes the blood thicker, which can lead to heart disease. It can also increase the risk of cancer. People with HIV are already at higher risk of both these diseases so they should consider quitting smoking to lower these risks. 

HIV and recreational drugs: what are the risks?

Recreational drugs can weaken the immune system, which is especially important for people with HIV to look after. Being high can affect judgement, so people might miss HIV medication doses. This can put their health at risk. 

Some HIV drugs can react to recreational drugs and cause side effects, like feeling dizzy, which is important to speak to a doctor about. 

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  • Last updated: 16 October 2023
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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