When it comes to side effects of HIV medications, the gastrointestinal tract—the gut—is one of the most commonly affected organ systems in the body. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are three ways in which the gut deals with toxins. These are important defense mechanisms, as they help keep dangerous germs—such as bacteria, viruses, and other bugs—as well as truly harmful chemicals out of the body. Although antiretrovirals (ARVs) are designed to fight HIV, the gut often considers these HIV meds to be harmful and may turn on its defense mechanisms to clear them from the body.
These side effects don't occur in everyone, and fortunately when they occur as side effects of HIV treatment, they are usually mild and tend to diminish after the first few days or weeks of treatment. Even so, they can have a serious impact on your quality of life and need to be addressed as a part of your overall health so you can get the most out of your treatment.
If nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting are severe or prolonged, they can lead to serious health problems and can prevent HIV meds from entering the bloodstream and from doing what they need to do. You should report these symptoms to your doctor, to determine if they are a side effect of treatment or a symptom of something more serious.
Last Revised: February 26, 2015
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