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Monitoring your health

Having regular health checks can inform you about how well your treatments are working and give you early warnings about changes in your health.

Most people with HIV are monitored by general practitioners (GPs) with experience in treating people with HIV.

You need to keep an eye on your viral load, CD4 counts, pap smear (women), sexually transmissible infections, your liver health (especially if you also have hepatitis, but also because some HIV treatments can cause liver damage), your general health and your dental health.

You may find it useful to keep a health diary or notebook in which you record test results, treatments, symptoms, reactions to medications and other things associated with your HIV monitoring. This can be a valuable tool for tracking changes in your health.

Viral load and CD4 count

'Viral load' is the term used to describe the amount of HIV in your bloodstream.

CD4 cells are a critical part of your immune system which are infected and destroyed by HIV.

Together, the viral load test and CD4 counts can show:

  • The level of activity of HIV in your bloodstream
  • The level of damage to your immune system
  • When to start antiviral treatment
  • If your treatments are working, and whether it may be necessary to change them; and
  • When to take preventative medicines (prophylaxis) to decrease the chances of getting some of the more common opportunistic illnesses associated with AIDS.

Side effects and other tests

Common tests for side effects include glucose, triglyceride and cholesterol levels, platelet count, kidney and liver function tests, and haemoglobin and haematocrit levels.

Your doctor may also test for drug resistance, abacavir hypersensitivity and monitor drug levels in your blood (which can help individualise your therapy and minimise side effects).

Women with HIV are advised to have a pap smear every 12 months. This is because HIV-positive women are more likely to have abnormal cervical cells. 


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This page was published on 12 January, 2011

This page was reviewed on 21 December 2015