Treatment

At HIV Community Link, we offer a wide range of programs and services, as well as referrals to other service providers. For more information on our support services for People Living with HIV, click here.

There is no cure for HIV, but treatment can help people stay healthy for many years. In fact, it is estimated that with early diagnosis and proper care and treatment, many People Living with HIV can expect to live a normal life-span.  With access to treatment and other healthy lifestyle choices, HIV is not a “death sentence” as some people may think. In southern Alberta, treatment (medications) and other medical services for people living with HIV/AIDS are available through the Southern Alberta Clinic. HIV treatment is free for people with provincial health insurance (Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan). Contact the Southern Alberta Clinic by phone at: (403) 955-6399 or find more information online here

Although there is no cure, HIV can be treated successfully with anti-HIV medications. With daily and continuous treatment the virus is well controlled inside the body and wellness, quality of life and life expectancy are significantly improved. The current standard in HIV treatment is a combination of at least 3 different classes of medications that work together tostop HIV’s ability to replicate and damage the immune system.  Some common terms for HIV treatment include ARVs (antiretrovirals), ART (antiretroviral therapy), HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) or CAART (combination antiretroviral therapy).

HIV treatment can cause uncomfortable and serious side effects for some people.  Treatment is individualized and different people will have different experiences with their treatment.  Some side effects may be short term and only last the first 2 to 6 weeks after starting treatment (nausea, headaches and dizziness for example), while others may cause long-term changes that can take years to develop or be noticeable.  Debilitating side effects have been experienced with some classes of HIV medication. Fortunately, many of the newer medications cause much fewer side effects for many people.

The decision to start HIV treatment should always be made in consultation with a medical doctor.  When HIV treatment is started, it is very important that people take their medications as prescribed and do not skip doses or take unsupervised “breaks” from their treatment schedule.  When treatment is interrupted in this way, there is concern that the virus will begin replicating quickly and may become resistant to the medication.  If resistant virus develops, that type of medication will stop working.  When working with a doctor to determine when and how to start HIV treatment, resistance should be discussed and considered carefully.

HIV treatment works by controlling the amount of virus in the body so the immune system can stay healthy.  In addition to medications, many people living with HIV find their overall health is improved or maintained by  making other healthy lifestyle choices including good nutrition, exercise, reducing or eliminating drug and alcohol use, and managing stress.  For more information on HIV treatment and healthy lifestyle choices for People Living with HIV, visit CATIE: Canada’s source for HIV treatment information.