This Guide Is One Tool to Healthy Living

Welcome to the second edition of A Practical Guide to HIV Drug Side Effects, published by CATIE (Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange).

Thanks to ongoing improvements in HIV treatment, the future for people living with HIV is better than ever before. Many of the problems that were common with the treatments available early in the epidemic have been eliminated or at least minimized.

Despite great improvements in the treatment of HIV, many people living with HIV continue to experience changes and problems in their body as a result of the drugs they are taking to treat HIV and, in some cases, as a result of the virus itself. The changes and problems caused by medicines are called drug side effects, and they can range from mild to annoying to life-threatening.

As you will see in the sections of this guide, there are many possible HIV drug side effects, and many possible ways to resolve them. We hope to help you understand more about the various types of drug side effects: what each drug side effect looks or feels like, what could be causing it and how the side effect may be managed. Some of the treatments suggested in this guide will be ones that you will need to access through your doctor or other healthcare provider. In other cases, this guide will suggest over-the-counter remedies and things you can do to help yourself.

As the title says, this publication is meant to be a practical guide. Feel free to use it any way that suits you. You may want to read it from beginning to end, or concentrate only on the sections that relate to side effects you are experiencing.

The foundations for health

Speaking of things you can do to help yourself, there are a number of practices for healthy living that lay the foundation for living well with HIV, regardless of the treatments you take or the side effects they can cause.

First of all, a trusting and honest relationship with your doctor is very important for your overall health. Two of the most significant decisions you and your doctor will make together concern when you go on antiretroviral therapy and what combination of drugs you decide to take.

Antiretroviral therapy helps to slow the body’s production of HIV and is responsible for changing HIV from a disease that was once fatal to a chronic, manageable illness. If your doctor prescribes antiretroviral drugs for you, be sure to take the medications exactly as directed, every day. Missing doses increases the chance the drugs will no longer work to control HIV as the virus becomes resistant to them.

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet consisting of lean proteins, whole grains and colourful fruits and vegetables provides your body with the nutrients it needs to function best. Consider supplementing your diet with vitamins and other nutrients. You’ll find lots of information about supplementation in the sections of this guide.

Regular exercise boosts your metabolism, builds muscle, stimulates feelings of hunger and contributes to a feeling of overall wellness. Getting a good night’s sleep helps your body to regenerate and heal. Finally, reducing stress through positive social interactions, calming techniques like meditation or deep breathing, counselling, or participating in enjoyable activities ensures that you have a healthy mind and a healthy body.

Staying up to date

The information about HIV drugs and their side effects is constantly changing as research provides new information. However, a lot of the underlying issues — the types of side effects, how they look and feel, what can cause them and how to describe them to your doctor — stay largely the same. We’ve tried to focus on information not apt to change quickly.

For the most up-to-date information on specific drugs and their side effects, refer to CATIE News and TreatmentUpdate, two publications that provide timely reporting on the latest developments in HIV treatment. CATIE’s website provides a wealth of information, as well as links to many other reputable online sources of HIV information.

If you don’t find an answer to your question there, you can email or call CATIE with any questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them. Get in touch with us at or 1-800-263-1638. Most importantly, don’t forget that none of this information can replace the advice of your doctor.

We’ve also tried to make this practical guide work with other CATIE publications and resources, including our indispensable Managing Your Health: a guide for people living with HIV. Managing Your Health covers a lot of ground, including some of the issues discussed here. While you may notice many similarities between the two publications, this practical guide provides more detailed information about the side effects of HIV drugs.

Author Lark Lands has provided expert, holistic and practical advice for healthier living with HIV for more than 30 years. You can find more of Lark’s great writing at, including in-depth resources on specific HIV drug side effects.