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Women and HIV/AIDS

Article by Jason Hachkowski

Both men and women benefit from highly active combination antiretroviral therapy, or HAART. It can decrease incidences of opportunistic infections, delay the onset of AIDS, and increase lifespan. There is little doubt that HAART therapy is beneficial for those with HIV.

There are however many unanswered questions on HAART. This is especially true for women on HAART as the prevalence of HIV and AIDS in the male population is significantly higher. Due to this higher prevalence, more data is available on the effects of the therapy for men than for women. As with any new treatment regimen, one must take care to monitor their health with their doctor. If you are woman who is HIV positive, these following tips can help you and your health care provider monitor your treatment regimen, and the effects it is having on your health.

Therapeutic Drug Monitoring

The appropriate drug dosage varies from one person to another, and individual responses to HIV medicines are unique to each individual. Body chemistry, liver function, and overall health can determine whether or not you are taking enough of a drug, or too little of a drug. Therapeutic drug monitoring is a test that determines how much of the drug is present in the bloodstream. This can help you and your doctor to determine whether you are receiving too much, or too little of the prescription medication.


Lipodystrophy is a side effect of HIV and AIDS drugs, and will affect men and women quite differently. Lipodystrophy is a general medical term describing the abnormal accumulation or degeneration of the body’s adipose (fat) tissues.

Lipodystropy associated with HAART typically sees men experiencing more wasting in the limbs and face. Men also tend to experience elevated cholesterol and triglycerides. Women more often experience accumulation of fat in the breasts and abdomen, and do not experience the same elevations of cholesterol and triglycerides. This may be partly due to the fact that women more often endure shorter HAART regimens, the fact that women accumulate body fat differently than men, and hormonal differences.

Low Bone Density

Low bone density is another side effect of HIV medications and HAART therapy. This becomes an even bigger problem in women who are long term survivors as bone density naturally decreases in women as they age, or may already be present. HIV positive women should have their bone-mass checked regularly. The factors mentioned above can lead to premature osteoporosis-like symptoms in women, and the related injuries and ailments associated with it.

Side Effects

HIV positive women report more side effects from HAART more often than men. Nelfinavir and Ritonavir have more severe side effects in women. Typical side-effects of Nelfinavir include skin itchiness and rashes, and moderate to severe abdominal pain, but less incidents of diarrhea than Ritonavir. On the other hand, women taking Ritonavir tend to report more nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, malaise, and fatigue. Females with HIV are also more likely to suffer from rashes than men when taking Nevirapine, Atripla, and Delavirdine.

It is worthwhile to note that most dosing regimens are based on data from clinical trials involving male-dominated sampling and testing. This again reinforces the importance of therapeutic drug monitoring to ensure that you are taking the correct amount of medicine for you.

Highly active combination antiretroviral therapy can decrease incidences of opportunistic infections, delay the onset of AIDS, and increase lifespan. There is little doubt that HAART therapy is beneficial for those with HIV. There are also still many unanswered questions. These medications are not without potential side-effects and long-term toxicities. It is also important to note that adherence to the HAART regimen provided by your doctor will also help to lower the chances that the HIV/AIDS virus will develop resistance to the medication. If you are considering HAART or are already being treated ensure that you follow your doctors’ guidelines, and maintain regular visits to ensure the best overall health possible.

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The staff at understand that AIDS and HIV can be difficult to deal with at times. They make every effort to ensure your complete satisfaction, and to help you save money.

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