A side effectAn unwanted effect caused by the administration of drugs. Onset may be sudden or develop over time. is a reaction or condition that arises as a result of taking a particular drug. The term usually refers to adverse effects (or problems), like nausea, diarrhoea, or nerve damage. You may find some side effects are relatively minor and can be dealt with fairly simply (for example, medications can be prescribed for diarrhoea and nausea). Some people have no side effects and continue on their first regimen of drugs for years. Other people, however, may have serious side effects.
There are three categories of side effects: Short term side effects, chronic or persistent side effects, and side effects that emerge over time.
Short-term side effects
Short-term side effects are problems that arise as soon as you start the drug but often subside over time — usually within days or weeks. Rashes, vomiting and jaundice are examples. Sometimes these are called ‘induction’ side effects, because they occur as your body adjusts to the new medication, and they can be intense, so speak to your doctor if you are experiencing them.
The key to managing side effects is to be forewarned by your doctor about what to expect, so that you can then organise to be supported through them; taking time off from work or caring responsibilities if possible. In some cases there may be other medications you can take to reduce the severity of certain side effects.
Persistent side effects
Persistent side effects are those that are ongoing while taking a particular drug or drugs. They either need to be controlled by other medications or, if the side effects are unendurable, you need to change your antiretrovirals.
Diarrhoea is a common example of a persistent side effect that is treatable, and another is changes in your central nervous system (disturbed thinking, feeling ‘nervy’ and nightmares), which usually is not treatable.
Long-term side effects
Long-term side effects (sometimes called long-term toxicities) are those conditions that develop over a long period of time using a particular drug or drugs.
Examples of this are peripheral neuropathy (a kind of nerve damage) and lipodystrophy (a fat distribution problem which can lead to changes in your body shape).
There are some side effects which are short term in some people (or with some drugs), and persistent in others. You may not know until you have been on a drug for about a month whether the side effects will subside or persist. If side effects persist and you and your doctor can’t come up with effective ways of managing them, you will need to switch to different drugs.
If you vomit within an hour of taking your medication, take another dose as your body will not have absorbed the ARVA medication or other substance which is active against retroviruses such as HIV. (make sure you include all relevant medications). If you vomit more than an hour after taking you medication you don’t need to take another dose.
Before going onto any antiretrovirals, you should make sure your doctor is clear with you about potential side effects. Ask your doctor for written information if possible. If you are concerned, ask whether you can also be given something to have on hand in case you experience one of the more common side effects (like diarrhoea).
The question of long-term side effects is more difficult. Some of the recent research in women has shown that women who are overweight before commencing ARV are more likely to experience changes to body shape caused by fat accumulation, this long term side effect is associated with using some HIV treatments, especially protease inhibitorsA type of anti-HIV drug that works by preventing the production of an enzyme, protease, that HIV needs to replicate.. Being in a healthy weight range for your height is a useful health goal for any woman, but it is not certain that it will protect you from unwanted fat accumulation.
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