The doc wants to change your HIV meds:  A peek inside one RipplePHX’s staff member’s journey

Taking meds every day is top of mind when we think about staying healthy while living with HIV.  But with new medications that continue to improve and roll-out, sometimes a person’s doc may recommend a switch to a newer medication.

That’s what recently happened to one of RipplePHX’s very own, AJ Dominguez.

There’s an old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, so when you’re undetectable and have been taking the same medication for years, it can be a hard decision to make a change and you may have a lot of questions.  Learn more about AJ’s story, and how he faced his provider’s recommendation to switch to a new medication.

Meet AJ.

RipplePHX:  Did you start treatment right away after learning you were living with HIV?

AJ:  I first learned I was HIV positive when I tested in 2009 at Body Positive when I was 28 years old. I didn’t start treatment right away because I was scared and processing the fact that I was now living with HIV. I was scared that if anyone found out that they would push me away and wouldn’t want me around.  At that time, I didn’t know anything about HIV, and what I remember hearing was that people died from HIV/AIDS.  To be honest it took me some time before I went in and got on treatment.

Once I learned about my status, I told myself the test was wrong and they were wrong.  I remember thinking to myself that I was going to die.  At that time, all I ever heard was that people who have HIV get sick and die.  Now, I know I can live a long and normal life as long as the virus is treated, but I didn’t want my friends or family to know I was taking meds for fear of them asking me questions about why I was taking them.  I was fearful of what they would think of me and if they knew I was HIV positive if they would still love me or want to be around me.  It took me a long time to come to terms with my diagnosis and get on treatment.

RipplePHX:  Tell us about what treatment looked like for you.  How long did it take for you become undetectable?

AJ: When I first got on treatment, I was scared.  I remember the doctor telling me that I would need to take a pill for the rest of my life.  I remember asking lots of questions because I was fearful of taking the medications.  I didn’t know if there would be side effects or if they would make me sick.  One thing I did know was that I didn’t want to die from this disease.

I started taking HIV medications, my first follow-up visit with my doctor was 6 months later, and I was already undetectable because of the treatment.  However, my doctor’s visit at that time was quick and I didn’t really get much information about my labs or get to ask any questions.  I didn’t like that – so when I was able to find a new provider – I did.  I wanted a provider who would take the time to go over my labs and allow me to ask questions when I had them.

RipplePHX:  You recently mentioned your provider wanted to switch your HIV medications.  Can you tell us a little bit about why a provider would want to change a person’s regimen?

AJ:  Since my diagnosis I’ve switched providers and they’ve been great!  When my provider mentioned switching my meds, I was hesitant at first.  I asked “why” and he stated that there are newer medications that are not as risky to the body – with little to no side effects.

RipplePHX:  What were your thoughts on changing medications?

AJ:  My provider allowed me some time to think about the switch, and if I had questions, I could ask them on my next follow up.  I did eventually switch meds after reading up on the new medication, asking friends who have been taking the new medication and because I trusted my provider.

One thing I’ve learned since my diagnosis is to advocate for myself.  If I have questions, I always make sure to ask even if I think it’s minor.  For me, it’s important to have a good relationship with my provider, and that we listen to each other.

RipplePHX:  How long has it been since you switched and how was that transition?

AJ: It’s been about 2 weeks since I switched my meds and so far things are good!  I like that I’m able to keep my same routine when taking my medication which is right before bed.  So far, there are no side effects and I feel good!

RipplePHX:  What will you want to talk with the provider about at your visit?  What are the most important things that you want to keep an eye on?

AJ:  Again, a good relationship with your provider is very important.  I love that my provider takes the time to go over my labs and explains everything to me like renal, weight, etc.  For me, the most important things I watch out for are my viral load, CD4, kidneys, and liver numbers. If I have questions, I make sure to ask them – if we don’t ask, then how will we know?

RipplePHX:  What advice would you give to someone who may be considering changing medications?

AJ:  My advice is to be open to it.  If you have questions, then talk to your provider.  Medications continue getting better and better.  Advocate for yourself!  If you’re still unsure or not happy then get a second opinion.  It’s your body – take control!

Thank you for sharing your story with our community, AJ!!

Learn more about switching HIV medications by reading this incredible article from POZ Magazine.

Gather your list of questions and talk with your provider about any potential changes to your regimen or if you’re experiencing side effects from your current medication.  Keep in mind that every provider doesn’t specialize in every type of illness.  If you’d like to explore providers who specialize in HIV, find a list of Phoenix-area HIV specialty providers here.  Providers who speak Spanish or utilize a translation service are also noted.  All providers on this list serve patients who are either documented or undocumented.