Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(10):2117-2118

I'm scared. How can I cope with my fear?

Finding out that you have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus infection) can be frightening. One way to fight your fear is to learn as much as you can about the disease. Knowing about HIV and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) will also help you take the best care of yourself.

You can fight your worry about HIV infection with reliable information. Although your friends and family may give you advice, the best information comes from your doctor or your counselor, or from one of the national, state, or local community HIV/AIDS resources.

What can I do to help myself?

Early treatment is helping many people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. It's normal to feel sadness, anxiety, and fear when you first learn that you have tested positive for HIV. However, if you have trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating, or if you have thoughts of suicide, tell your doctor. Treatment can help with depression and anxiety. Here are some things you can do:

  • Get medical check-ups at regular intervals even if you're feeling well. Ask your doctor how often to come in for a check-up.

  • Get regular dental check-ups—bleeding gums can increase your risk of infecting someone else.

  • Always practice “safer sex” by using a latex condom during sex. If you don't know how, your doctor can give you information.

  • Don't share needles for drugs, steroids, piercing, or tattooing.

  • Help your body fight infection by using less alcohol and tobacco—or give them up completely. Eat a balanced diet. Get regular exercise. Get enough sleep.

  • Find out what causes stress in your home and work life. Do whatever you can to reduce this stress.

  • Volunteer to work for an AIDS organization. Facing your fears directly can be a good way to cope with them.

Who should know I have HIV?

If you have tested positive for HIV, you must tell your past and present sexual partners. They should get tested too. You must also tell any future sexual partners that you are positive for HIV. If you are now in a relationship, you may wish to ask your doctor about how to explain your positive test result to your partner.

Let your doctors and your dentist know that you have HIV. This will help them give you the care you need. Your privacy will be respected, and your doctor and dentist cannot refuse to treat you just because you have HIV.

What legal issues should I consider?

Everyone who tests positive for HIV should think ahead about which treatment options they would want if they become seriously ill and are unable to tell others what they want. Advance directives are written guidelines that tell doctors your wishes for different kinds of treatment if a time comes when you can't make those decisions yourself.

You should also consider getting a medical power-of-attorney. This is a legal document that names someone (e.g., a life partner, a family member, or a friend) to make decisions for you if you are seriously ill. A lawyer can draw up the documents for an advance directive and a medical power-of-attorney.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • National HIV and AIDS Hotline

    Telephone: 1-800-342-2437

    (Spanish: 800-344-7432)


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • National Prevention Information Network

    Telephone: 1-800-458-5231 (TYY: 800-243-7012)


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