6 reasons you may feel tired when you're living with HIV

HIV-tired-Positive Peers

By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Everyone feels tired from time to time, but it’s a problem when you’re feeling drained nearly every day. Whether you’re living with HIV or not, it’s important to understand what might be causing you to be exhausted on a daily basis.

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Can HIV cause me to be tired?

Short answer, yes, it can. Remember how tired you felt the last time you caught a cold? You probably sat around all day, blowing your nose and sneezing. You had about as much energy as a cellphone at 10%.

And that’s just a common cold. HIV, on the other hand, is a potentially dangerous infection that requires powerful medicine to protect your immune system.

Without the help of HIV medications, the body uses so much energy battling the virus that it tires people out.


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I take my meds every day, what else could make me tired?

HIV isn’t the only reason you may feel exhausted though. If you’re feeling tired, it might be because everything else you’re dealing can drain your battery.

These are some of the reasons you might feel worn out, regardless of your HIV status:

  • Emotions. Feeling depressed, frightened, or anxious tires you out more quickly than if you feel happy, confident, or carefree.
  • Drug abuse. Partying too hard on Saturday gives you a massive hangover that sucks up your energy all day Sunday.
  • Side effects. Some medications are known to cause fatigue, including some HIV meds (though not everybody is affected in the same way)
  • Anemia. Anemia is when your red blood cell count is too low. This can cause fatigue because your body isn’t getting enough oxygen to key organs and muscles. People with chronic illnesses, like HIV, are at an increased risk of Anemia.
  • Poor diet. Eating lots of junk food and not getting enough of the right nutrients forces the body to work extra hard, which drains your energy.
  • Lack of exercise. Staying inactive for hours at a time actually makes you feel more tired.

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What to do about fatigue

It’s important to listen to your body, recognize when you’re feeling a little run down, and know what you can do to get your energy back.

Let’s go through each of the causes we mentioned above and talk about solutions:

  • Deal with your emotional symptoms. Anxiety and depression are natural reactions to stressful situations, such as being diagnosed with HIV. They can be treated with therapy and medications. Don’t let people tell you it’s all in your head, these things are real and can cause physical symptoms as well! Talk to a health professional and look into meditation, yoga, and other natural ways to improve your mood.
  • Don’t party so hard. Having fun is good for your emotions — but try not to lean on alcohol and recreational drugs when you’re partying. Your Saturday nights don’t have to ruin your Sundays.
  • Get serious about diet and exercise. These two go together. Using better fuel and staying active are important for your health. Going on walks and working your way into an exercise rhythm will improve your mood, keep your heart healthy, and help you beat fatigue. The more you sit around, the more tired you will feel.
  • Talk to your doctor about side effects. It’s important to consider side effects when talking to your doctor about starting (or continuing) any medication.
  • Get tested for anemia. Common tests can measure your red blood cell count to see if you’re anemic. You may be able to change your diet or do other things to treat anemia.

Everyone experiences fatigue at some point in their life, whether they are living with HIV or not. The important thing is to recognize when you’re feeling run down and do what you need to feel better.

Try to be patient with your doctor when you explain your fatigue symptoms. Ask about tests to find out if there’s a specific medical cause, and consider following their suggestions to stop feeling so tired. You have a life to live and don’t have time to be tired!

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