Finding out you are HIV positive

How people cope with being diagnosed with HIV varies from person to person. The sooner your HIV infection is diagnosed, the sooner you can receive suitable medical care and support.

Receiving a positive HIV result

If you test positive for HIV, a further blood test will need to be carried out to confirm the result. If this is also positive, you will be referred to a specialist HIV clinic for some more tests and a discussion about your treatment options. The regional centre for the care of people living with HIV is based at the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH), in Belfast.

The HIV team at the RVH includes consultant physicians supported by other medical, nursing, health advisor, social work, pharmacy and clinical psychology staff. You will also be offered support and help for emotional and practical concerns.

Finding out you have tested positive for HIV can be extremely distressing and it is common to have feelings of anxiety or depression. The HIV team can provide you with counselling so that you can fully discuss your condition and concerns.

You may find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor or psychologist, or to someone at a specialist helpline. Some people find it helpful to talk to other people who have HIV, either at a local support group or in an internet chat room.

If you have performed a HIV self-test and the result is reactive, you must have the test result confirmed by a healthcare professional in a clinic.

More information on HIV self-testing in Northern Ireland is available on the Sexual Health website:

If you are diagnosed with HIV, you will have regular blood tests to monitor the progress of the HIV infection. This involves monitoring the amount of virus in your blood and the effect HIV is having on your immune system, by measuring the levels of CD4 cells in your blood.

When to start treatment should be discussed with your doctor.

Living with HIV

There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments which allow most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.

As HIV is a long-term condition, you will be in regular contact with your specialist HIV healthcare team.

Treatment for HIV

The aim of treatment is to reduce the level of HIV in the blood, allow the immune system to repair itself and prevent any HIV-related illnesses. HIV is treated with antiretrovirals (ARVs) which work by stopping the virus replicating in the body. A combination of ARVs is used because HIV can quickly adapt and become resistant to one single ARV.

Combination therapy is the term for using three or more drugs to treat HIV. It is also known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Combination therapy slows the progression of the condition and can prolong life.

The combination of medicines that suits one person may not be suitable for another, so the medicine you take will be individual to you.

Once HIV treatment is started, you will probably need to take the medication for the rest of your life. HIV treatment only works if you take your medication regularly every day.

HIV treatment can have side effects including:

  • nausea
  • diarrhoea
  • skin rashes
  • sleep problems

The HIV Team will review your treatment on an ongoing basis.

Your health

You will need to develop a daily routine to fit your treatment plan around your lifestyle. The staff at your clinic can give you advice and support.

Self care is an important part of living with HIV. It means that you take responsibility for your own health and well-being, with support from the people involved in your care.

Self care includes the things you do each day to improve your general health and reduce your risk of falling ill including exercising regularly, eating a healthy, balance diet and stopping smoking if you smoke.

Telling people about your HIV

If you have HIV, it is important that your current sexual partner and any sexual partners you’ve had since being exposed to infection are tested for HIV. The HIV team will discuss your concerns and be able to advise you about who should be contacted and the best way to contact them, or they may be able to contact them on your behalf.

They will also be able to advise you how you can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to someone else.

The HIV Team will also be able to advise you about disclosing your HIV status.

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