Your Everyday Guide to Living Well With HIV/AIDS

Medically Reviewed
man running outdoors
Aerobic exercise is important for people with HIV, as it is for everybody. Aim for at least 30 minutes five times a week.
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Learning that you have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) requires adjusting to a new normal, both in terms of how you manage your condition and how you live your life. Medication, taken as prescribed, can keep your immune system working and prevent AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), but you may still feel anxious about your health and overwhelmed by the new emotional, social, sexual, and financial challenges you face. That’s why we’ve created this everyday guide to HIV/AIDS.

Whether you’ve received an HIV diagnosis or are helping a friend or loved one cope, you’ll find advice and resources here.

Managing Daily Life and Complications of HIV/AIDS

If you have HIV, taking care of your physical and mental health needs to become your priority. That includes eating well, exercising, sticking to a medication schedule, managing stress, and traveling smart.

Diet for HIV/AIDS

While everyone should eat a balanced diet, good nutrition is especially important for people with HIV or AIDS to maintain strength, energy, and a well-functioning immune system. Certain complications related to HIV and AIDS, such as wasting syndrome (involving significant unwanted weight loss), diarrhea, and lipid abnormalities, make a healthy diet vital, according to

In addition, some HIV medications — such as sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim (Bactrim) and dapsone, taken to prevent opportunistic infections — can cause nutritional deficiencies. So talk to your doctor about whether you should be taking supplements, such as B12, folate, or iron.

While there are no special diet regimens for people with HIV, you may need to eat more than you used to in order to give your immune system the energy (calories) it needs to fight other infections, says the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), the single largest provider of medical care to people with HIV in the United States. If you’re underweight or have advanced HIV, high viral loads, or opportunistic infections, you might need to eat more protein as well.

Exercising With HIV/AIDS

Like everyone else, people with HIV should exercise for physical and mental health, according to the VA. Workouts include:

  • Aerobic Exercise Brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, and other cardio activities strengthen the heart and lungs. Aim for at least 30 minutes five times a week.
  • Resistance or Strength Training You can offset the loss of muscle mass that some people with HIV experience by using free weights, exercise machines, or your own body weight (push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups). Aim for at least two strength-training sessions a week, recommends

Managing Your Prescriptions for HIV/AIDS

Managing multiple medications can be confusing, but taking HIV drugs on schedule, exactly as prescribed by your doctor, is imperative for suppressing the virus. offers the following advice on how to stay on track:

  • Create a routine. If you have a medicine that you need to take in the morning with food, for instance, make a habit of having it with breakfast.
  • Use a pill box. Some have compartments for every day of the week or month.
  • Set a reminder. Use your phone, watch, or alarm clock, or download a free reminder app.
  • Use a daily log or calendar. Jot down each time you take a pill.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine for HIV/AIDS

If you are living with HIV/AIDS, you may be interested in pursuing alternative healing and mind-body therapies to augment your medication regimen. While there is little to no research for many of these practices (such as ingesting apple cider vinegar), scientists have produced some evidence to support massage therapy, with the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health stating that massage may be helpful for treating anxiety and depression in people with HIV/AIDS. Yoga may offer similar benefits.

The VA recommends talking to your HIV healthcare provider before trying any complementary treatment. The popular medicinal herb St. John’s wort, for example, decreases levels of some HIV medications in the blood, making them less effective. And so-called “immune-boosting agents” might actually cause inflammation in people living with HIV.

Traveling With HIV/AIDS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with HIV take special precautions before and during travel. Here are a few of its tips (consult the CDC site for more):

  • Talk to your HIV healthcare provider at least four to six weeks before your trip to find out if you need to take any preventive medicines, require any travel vaccines (which will depend on your destination or CD4 count), or pack any drugs in case of unexpected issues (such as antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea).
  • Educate yourself about your destination. Some countries have special health rules for visitors, especially those with HIV.
  • Review your health insurance to make sure you’re covered while you’re away, and consider buying supplemental traveler’s insurance.
  • If you’re traveling for an extended period, make sure you have enough HIV medication for the entire trip. (This can be a challenge as some insurance doesn’t provide more than one month of HIV medication at a time.)

Finding Your Doctors for HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS care requires a team approach. Here are some of the professionals who may be caring for you, according to

  • HIV healthcare providers
  • Nurses
  • Mental health providers
  • Nutritionists and dietitians
  • Case managers

HIV healthcare providers

The leader of your healthcare team, your HIV healthcare provider may be a doctor of medicine or a doctor of osteopathic medicine, a nurse practitioner, or a physician assistant. Some women may prefer to work with an obstetrician-gynecologist who has special training in HIV/AIDS.

The American Academy of HIV Medicine's Referral Link can help you find a professional near you.


They provide and coordinate care with the healthcare team.

Mental Health Providers

You might opt to work with a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

Nutritionists and Dietitians

These experts will give you guidance on how to eat a healthy diet and help you address any specific eating issues.

Case Managers

If HIV is the first major healthcare issue you’ve faced, learning how to get the services and support you need can feel overwhelming. Many hospitals and HIV treatment centers offer case managers who can help you navigate the system, develop a services plan, and follow up with providers.

Your Mental Health and HIV/AIDS

People living with HIV/AIDS are at a higher risk of experiencing mental disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Certain forms of stress (hiding one’s HIV status, coping with stigma) may lead to problems with mental health. Some medications can cause symptoms of depression and anxiety, too. Also, the virus itself can affect the brain and change how a person thinks and behaves.

The good news is that many of these conditions are treatable. Here’s how to cope with the emotional impact of an HIV diagnosis.

Managing Depression and HIV/AIDS

Depression is not the same thing as sadness or grief: It is a serious mental illness that can be marked by symptoms such as persistent fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, reckless behavior, substance abuse, or thoughts of suicide.

According to the NIMH, studies have found that people who are living with HIV are twice as likely to experience depression as people who aren’t infected with HIV.

Ignoring depression can be risky. suggests the following ways to address the issue:

  • Talk to your HIV healthcare provider, who may be able to prescribe antidepressants, refer you to a mental health specialist, or adjust your HIV medication to minimize side effects.
  • Contact a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist for talk therapy or medication. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has resources on finding treatment on its website.
  • Join a support group. These might include a mental health support group or an HIV support group, and can be peer-based (via Meetup, for instance) or faith-based (through a religious institution).
  • If you think you might harm yourself, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) provides free and confidential 24/7 support. San Francisco Suicide Prevention's HIV Nightline (415-434-2437 or 800-628-9240) and Textline (415-200-2920) operate 24/7.

Managing Anxiety and HIV/AIDS

The VA offers these tips for people with HIV/AIDS who are feeling overwhelmed by fear and anxiety:

  • Talk to your HIV healthcare provider, who may be able to prescribe medication or help you access other mental health treatments, such as therapy.
  • Learn everything you can about HIV and ask your HIV healthcare provider about anything that confuses you. Fear of the unknown can make anxiety worse.
  • Begin taking HIV medications ASAP if you haven’t started already. Knowing that you’re doing all you can to protect yourself and other people can make you less afraid of the future.
  • Join a support group.
  • Volunteer at an HIV service organization or find another way to help other people with HIV; you will likely find it empowering.

How HIV/AIDS Can Affect Your Relationships

HIV/AIDS can raise complex emotional issues, which may affect your friendships and family relationships as well as your love and sex life.

Your Friendships and HIV/AIDS

Disclosing your HIV-positive status to friends may feel risky given the stigma, but there are reasons to seek out social support: According to, studies have shown that people who reveal their HIV status respond better to treatment than people who don’t. Be thoughtful about whom you decide to tell and how. Support groups can help you negotiate this territory and learn how other people are coping.

Your Romantic Relationships and HIV/AIDS

Even if you love and trust your partner, it’s important to have open and honest conversations about HIV and safe sex and for you both to be tested. The CDC recommends that anyone at high risk for HIV be tested at least once a year; sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing, such as every three to six months.

Assuming one of you has HIV, there are steps to prevent transmission. The most important one is for the HIV-positive person to take antiretroviral therapy (ART) as prescribed; this can reduce the viral load to undetectable levels, lowering the likelihood of transmitting the virus from sex without a condom to zero, says the CDC. A partner who does not have HIV can also protect themselves by taking preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication.

Family Planning With HIV/AIDS

According to the VA, the only forms of birth control that protect against HIV transmission are condoms (male and female) and abstinence (not having sex). Other forms of birth control may prevent pregnancy but will not prevent HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. Taking PrEP, however, is highly effective for preventing HIV from sex.

If you are living with HIV and become pregnant, the CDC states that you can reduce your risk of transmitting the virus to the baby to 1 percent or less by taking antiretroviral therapy as prescribed throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and ensuring that the baby takes HIV medicine for four to six weeks after delivery. Doctors recommend that HIV-positive parents avoiding breastfeeding, since breast milk can transmit HIV.

Dating With HIV/AIDS

Dating may feel especially fraught if you have HIV. Many people benefit from dating websites for people with HIV, such as

The Well Project offers a number of tips for dating with HIV, including advice on how to disclose your status:

  • It’s better to talk about your status well before any sexual situation develops.
  • Raise the topic while you are both sober.
  • Educate yourself about HIV, safer sex, and methods to prevent HIV transmission to make it easier to discuss these concerns with a potential new partner.
  • If you’re worried about an extremely negative or even violent reaction, consider having the discussion in a public place or with a friend present.

Sex Life With HIV/AIDS

The possibility of transmitting or becoming infected with HIV is a reality for every sexually active person, as well as for other people at risk because of factors like contaminated needles. Here’s an overview of what you need to know to stay safe (check for more key information):

  • If you are HIV negative, PreP medications, in the form of daily oral medication or a long-acting injectable, or a post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), begun within 72 hours of HIV exposure and taken every day for 28 days, can prevent infection.
  • If you are HIV positive, ART taken as prescribed can reduce your viral load to an undetectable level, making the risk of HIV transmission zero.
  • Use condoms (male or female). These are very effective at lowering transmission risk if used correctly every time. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first condom specifically designed for anal sex in February 2022.
  • Reduce your number of sexual partners. This can lower the odds of having a partner who can transmit HIV to you.
  • Get tested and treated for other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which increase the risk of getting or transmitting HIV; encourage your partners to do so as well.
  • Choose less risky sexual behaviors. Receptive anal sex presents the greatest odds of getting or transmitting HIV; vaginal sex is less risky but still poses a risk. In general, there is little to no risk from oral sex, though factors like bleeding gums, oral ulcers, genital sores, and the presence of other STDs may increase risk.
  • Sexual activities that don’t involve exposure to body fluids (semen, vaginal fluid, or blood) carry no risk of HIV transmission but may still put you at risk for other STDs.

Drug Use With HIV/AIDS

Sharing needles and drug equipment puts you at risk for getting or transmitting HIV and hepatitis B and C. Here are some safer ways to use drugs, according to the CDC:

  • Use only new, clean syringes and injection equipment every time you inject. Many communities have syringe services programs, through which you can get new needles and syringes and can safely dispose of used ones. Some pharmacies sell needles without a prescription.
  • Clean used needles with bleach (here's how) only when you can’t get new ones. Though not as good as new and sterile ones, disinfecting syringes can greatly reduce your risk for viral hepatitis and spreading HIV.
  • Never share needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment. If you use drugs with a partner, encourage them take PrEP, which is highly effective for preventing HIV from injection drug use.
  • Abstain from sex when you’re under the influence of drugs, since you’re more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, like having sex without a condom.
  • Choose not to inject drugs. Talk with your doctor or a counselor about treatment for substance use disorder, including medications that can help.

Medication for HIV/AIDS

The FDA has approved several drugs to prevent HIV infection, which include the following.

The FDA has also approved a wide array of medications to treat HIV and AIDS, according to Antiretroviral therapy, involving a combination of drugs taken daily, can keep levels of HIV in the blood at very low levels, greatly reducing the chance of transmitting HIV or developing opportunistic infections or HIV-related cancers.

There are eight classes of ART drugs; most HIV regimens involve two or three drugs from two classes.

There are also fixed-dose combination antiretroviral medicines, which are single pills that contain multiple drugs:

In January 2021, the FDA approved the first complete long-acting injectable HIV treatment. Called Cabenuva, it’s a combination of cabotegravir (an INSTI) and rilpivirine (an NNRTI) that is administered once every four to eight weeks by a healthcare provider.

HIV and COVID-19

If you have HIV, it’s especially important that you get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, since you are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if you get infected, especially if you have advanced HIV or are not on treatment, says the CDC. There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines interfere with PrEP medications or ART for HIV.

See the CDC's recommendations for full details about vaccines and boosters you may be eligible for and the latest guidelines about optimal timing for your shots.

Money Matters: The Cost of Living With HIV/AIDS

Living with any chronic condition, including HIV, can affect your financial life in numerous ways. Here’s a snapshot.

Medication Prices for HIV/AIDS

In the United States, the average lifetime medical cost for a person with HIV is $420,285 (in 2019 dollars), according to a study published in the April 2021 issue of the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

For low-income people whose expenses aren’t adequately covered by private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, the federally funded Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is a safety net. In addition to covering medication for low-income people with HIV or AIDS, the program may also offer support services in areas such as child care, housing, and substance-abuse recovery. To find a Ryan White clinic near you, use the Testing and Care Services Locator.

In addition, every state has an AIDS Drug Assistance Program to help ensure that people living with HIV and AIDS who are uninsured and underinsured have access to medication. Consult this directory to find services in your area.

Managing Your Work Life With HIV/AIDS

A person who is living with HIV/AIDs is protected against employment discrimination through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. With a few very rare exceptions, an employer who refuses to hire or who fires qualified employees based on HIV status is breaking the law. The ADA also strictly limits when employers may ask medical questions or require medical exams.

Can You Apply for Disability if You Have HIV/AIDS?

You may be eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration if you have HIV/AIDS and are unable to work. There are two programs through which you might receive payments: the Social Security disability insurance program, for people who have paid Social Security taxes while working, and the Supplementary Security Income program, for people with very limited income and resources.

Patient Stories: Living With HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS can affect anyone. Learning the success stories of people who are like you — or very different from you — can help you understand your condition better, offer useful perspectives, and inspire you to take charge of your health.

Brandi: Learning to Love Herself

Brandi Velasquez contracted HIV at age 16 through sex with a boyfriend. Her diagnosis tipped her toward a long period of self-destructive behavior, including heavy drinking and dropping out of high school. She describes her journey from self-hate to self-acceptance, a process that included starting medication and becoming a mother.

Cederick: A Double Coming Out

Always a fiercely private person, Cederick finally came out to his family after getting diagnosed with HIV at age 24. Sharing his sexual orientation and HIV status at the same time was a “double whammy,” he says. Now, he openly talks about his HIV status on social media and in front of college classrooms.

Yuri: HIV Doesn’t Slow Him Down

“I am not living with HIV. HIV is living with me,” says Yuri, who talks about the importance of early antiretroviral therapy, staying physically active, and finding a medical provider you can trust and talk to about anything.

Robbie: There’s No Shame in HIV

When Robbie Lawlor learned that he had HIV at age 21, he thought he would never date again. Though he’d only been in long-term relationships, his diagnosis made him feel somehow “unclean,” he says, which he now knows is a “lot of crap.” He talks about how he regained his self-confidence, got back on the dating scene, and found love again.

Clinical Trials for HIV/AIDS

Clinical trials are research studies that involve human volunteers, aimed at evaluating new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease.

How to Find a Clinical Trial

The website is a searchable database of studies on numerous conditions (including HIV and AIDS) taking place in 50 states and over 200 countries; these include federally funded studies as well as those sponsored by pharmaceutical and biotech companies. The AIDS Clinical Trials Group can help you locate an HIV or AIDS trial focused on an area of research that most interests you, such as HIV and hepatitis or HIV and COVID-19.

What to Consider Before Joining a Clinical Trial

You may have several reasons for wanting to participate in a clinical trial: These research studies can give you access to new treatments not yet available to the general public, and they help advance scientific research in ways that will benefit other patients and future generations.

But there are factors to consider before signing up for a clinical trial, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH): For instance, researchers may not know the side effects of an experimental treatment, so there’s a risk of unexpected complications.

Latest News and Research on HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS researchers and activists have transformed our world, but there is still vital work to be done.

News and Research on HIV/AIDS

There is ongoing research on ways to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS and help people with these conditions lead healthier lives. Here are some recent initiatives:

  • The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which manages the majority of federally funded HIV and AIDS studies, is working to develop new treatments as alternatives to a daily pill regimen or once-a-month shot.
  • In March 2022, NIAID launched a phase 1 clinical trial of an experimental HIV vaccine that uses mRNA (messenger rRNA) to prompt an immune response — the same kind of technology involved in the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines. Moderna has also begun clinical trials of its own HIV mRNA vaccine.
  • Now that people with HIV are living long lives, researchers are looking at how infection, treatment, or both affect overall health and the risk of developing other chronic diseases. The NIH-supported REPRIEVE clinical trial, for example, is looking at whether a statin medication could help reduce heart disease among people with HIV (who experience heart disease at a higher rate than the general population).
  • large-scale NIH-backed trial is examining whether screening people living with HIV for precancerous anal growths, and providing early treatment, can prevent anal cancer. While anal cancer is rare, people with HIV are much more likely to develop it compared with their HIV-negative peers.

HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

December 1 is World AIDS Day, an opportunity to raise money, increase awareness, fight stigma, improve education, and commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.

There are also other days throughout the year designated to promote awareness about and acknowledge the diverse populations living with HIV and AIDS: