Living with HIV

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Living Well

Living with HIV in Australia means that you can have a healthy, productive and long life. Getting the right treatment, learning about all the things that your body needs to stay healthy and acting on this will give you the same chance as everyone else to live well and long.

Today HIV is like any other chronic illness such as diabetes, a heart condition, arthritis or cancer. It requires you to learn how to live with the illness and to manage any associated stress and anxiety. This section provides some of the basic things that you or your family members can do so you can live a quality life.

It is true that stigma and discrimination associated with your circumstances and/or your HIV status adds another layer of psychological pressure. This pressure may cause lack of energy, lack of sleep, loss of appetite, not wanting to socialise, living in fear of being exposed or even passing on the infection to others.

The first step is to seek help and support when things are not going well for you. Seeking help does not mean you cannot live independently or that you are a burden on the available services; seeking help is a strength and shows that you want to get better and live well.

If you experience any of the above symptoms or others or require further information about any aspects of how to live well and longer, please visit our page Services for Women with HIV Living in South Australia.

You can also seek help from your GP, counsellor, nurse, social worker or any other professional that can support you and link you with an appropriate service.

It is always healthier to seek help about your issues rather than ignoring them.

livingwellEating well

In Australia we have access to a great variety of food, drink and nutritional supplements, but most of us need to choose our food and drink much more wisely to help protect our health.

Living with HIV is no different to other illnesses; it requires appropriate food choices to support a more active immune system and better general health. For example, women living with HIV may need a diet higher in protein than HIV negative women in order to conserve lean muscle mass.

A dietitian can recommend ways to maintain your health and give you advice about the food and drinks that are good for you. They will show ways to take control of your choices and assist you in making small changes so you can manage your day to day activities to the best of your ability.

Ask your GP if you can see a dietitian free of charge, and always seek advice before taking any nutritional supplements to ensure they won’t interact with any other medical treatment or conditions. 


Most adults need 7-9 hours of quality sleep a day. The quality of your sleep is as important as the amount of sleep you get a day. Getting enough hours of good quality sleep (sleeping without interruption) will help maintain your physical and emotional well-being.

If you are experiencing poor sleep, talk to your counsellor, nurse or a GP as they can suggest options to address the problem. 

Exercise photo-1466201071558-2242fb1d130d

There are many benefits to physical activities such as walking, swimming or attending exercise classes. Exercise can help you stay fit and control your weight; decrease stress levels and depression; sleep well; get more energy; and improve your positive thinking.

Exercising with someone else can make it more enjoyable and increase your social contact too. 


It is well documented that smoking damages the body; its many negative effects include heart disease, reduced blood circulation, breathing problems and cancer. Smoking is particularly damaging for people with HIV as it further weakens the immune system.

The good news is that your health will begin to improve within hours of stopping smoking, with significant improvement in the following weeks and months.

If you decide to give up smoking, there are many strategies (including acupuncture and hypnosis) to help you quit. See AFAO’s factsheet or call Quitline on 13 78 48. 

Taking medication or other herbal treatment

We highly recommend that you talk to your HIV treating doctor if you use or want to use any of the following, as they may make your HIV treatment less effective:

  • traditional healers or herbalists
  • homemade remedies
  • medicine without a prescription from the doctor such as herbal products, vitamins or pain relief
  • medicine that your friend recommended to you. 

Drugs and alcohol use

Drinking alcohol and/or using drugs puts pressure on the liver, which is needed to process HIV treatments. Some women on HIV treatment also experience unpleasant emotional, physical or mental effects after the consumption of even small amounts of alcohol.

Talk to your doctor about any drugs that you use because they can interact with your HIV treatment, possibly making it less effective. The HIV treatment can also make other drugs you take have a stronger and therefore potentially dangerous effect.

If you inject drugs, do not ever share needles or injecting equipment, even with other HIV-positive people. Use your own injecting equipment or use new equipment that can be supplied through any of the clean needle programs every time. This reduces the risk of HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B infection. 

photo-1471864190281-a93a3070b6deMethadone and other opiate substitute therapies may interact with HIV antiretroviral treatment.

Negative drug interactions can be managed by talking with your doctor about adjusting the dosage of methadone and/or HIV treatments. Do not stop taking HIV treatments without talking to your doctor.

For information about interactions between HIV antiretroviral drugs and recreational drugs, see:

VAC’s Touchbase
ACON’s Stimcheck
NAPWHA’s Get Smart with Substances 

This page is based on ‘Living Well: Women With HIV’ published by the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations and the National Association of People with HIV Australia, available at: