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HIV: Taking Antiretroviral Drugs

Introduction

Taking antiretroviral drugs for HIV will not cure your infection. But it may allow you to stay healthy for a long time.

Your willingness and ability to follow your antiretroviral therapy schedule exactly as prescribed is essential for successful treatment of your HIV infection. Not following your prescribed HIV therapy may cause treatment failures, such as:

In the past a person had to take many pills several times a day, which was hard for some people. But over the past few years, this routine has become much simpler, and people take their medicine only once or twice a day. With the right knowledge and tools, you can successfully take your medicine as prescribed.

 

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the use of three or more antiretroviral drugs. It is the standard treatment for HIV infection. Antiretroviral drugs attack the virus at different stages in its life cycle. ART helps prevent HIV from multiplying and helps the immune system stay healthy.

Medical experts recommend that people begin treatment for HIV as soon as they know that they are infected.1, 2 Treatment is especially important for pregnant women, people who have other infections (such as tuberculosis or hepatitis), and people who have symptoms of AIDS.

You may also want to start HIV treatment if your sex partner does not have HIV. Treatment of your HIV infection can help prevent the spread of HIV to your sex partner.3

Before you start treatment, consider the benefits and risks and discuss all the issues with your doctor.

Test Your Knowledge

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the use of three or more antiretroviral drugs to treat the HIV infection.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    In the treatment of HIV, antiretroviral therapy (ART) involves the use of three or more antiretroviral drugs. ART is considered the standard of care for treating HIV infection.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    In the treatment of HIV, antiretroviral therapy (ART) involves the use of three or more antiretroviral drugs. ART is considered the standard of care for treating HIV infection.

  •  

There are several factors to consider when deciding to start antiretroviral therapy.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    You and your doctor will consider many factors when deciding whether you should start antiretroviral therapy. Some of these factors are:

    • Whether you want to start antiretroviral therapy now.
    • How badly impaired your immune system is and how rapidly it is declining.
    • How likely it is that your infection will progress to AIDS.
    • Your thoughts about the possible benefits and risks of antiretroviral therapy.
  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    You and your doctor will consider many factors when deciding whether you should start antiretroviral therapy. Some of these factors are:

    • Whether you want to start antiretroviral therapy now.
    • How badly impaired your immune system is and how rapidly it is declining.
    • How likely it is that your infection will progress to AIDS.
    • Your thoughts about the possible benefits and risks of antiretroviral therapy.
  •  

My willingness and ability to take my medicine as prescribed is not a factor in making the decision to start antiretroviral therapy.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Your willingness and ability to take your medicine as prescribed is an important factor in determining whether you should start antiretroviral therapy. It is also essential for successful treatment of your HIV infection. Some people find that taking their medicine as prescribed by their doctor is challenging. Not following your prescribed HIV therapy may cause treatment to fail, because drug-resistant strains of HIV will produce higher viral loads and the disease will progress.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Your willingness and ability to take your medicine as prescribed is an important factor in determining whether you should start antiretroviral therapy. It is also essential for successful treatment of your HIV infection. Some people find that taking their medicine as prescribed by their doctor is challenging. Not following your prescribed HIV therapy may cause treatment to fail, because drug-resistant strains of HIV will produce higher viral loads and the disease will progress.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

Complications may develop if you do not take your antiretroviral therapy drugs exactly as prescribed.

  • The antiretroviral therapy drugs will not control the virus replication as effectively or protect the immune system.
  • Drug resistance is more likely to occur. The virus that causes HIV can become resistant to antiretroviral drugs used to treat the infection.

Test Your Knowledge

Drug resistance is more likely to occur if I do not take my drugs exactly as prescribed.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Not following your prescribed antiretroviral therapy may cause drug resistance. When this happens, the drug no longer effectively controls virus replication or protects the immune system.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Not following your prescribed antiretroviral therapy may cause drug resistance. When this happens, the drug no longer effectively controls virus replication or protects the immune system.

  •  

Not taking my antiretroviral drugs exactly as prescribed will not change the effectiveness of the antiretroviral drug.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    When antiretroviral drugs are not taken exactly as prescribed, the effectiveness of the drug is decreased and drug resistance is more likely to occur.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    When antiretroviral drugs are not taken exactly as prescribed, the effectiveness of the drug is decreased and drug resistance is more likely to occur.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

In the past, a person had to take many pills several times a day, which was hard for some people. But over the past few years this routine has become much simpler. Now people take their medicine only once or twice a day. With the right knowledge and tools, you can successfully take your medicine as prescribed.

Work with your doctor when starting ART.

  • Know the names of all of your drugs.
    • Get a clear explanation of the actions and purpose of each of your drugs. If you understand what you are taking and how it is helping you, it may be easier to stay on your schedule.
    • Write down both the brand name and generic name for your drugs. Have your doctor check the list.
  • Know when to take your medicine. Write down when to take your medicine, and have your doctor check it. Get pictures of all of your drugs so you are sure you are taking the right drug and the right dose at the right time. Be sure you understand how much of each drug to take and when to take each one.
  • Know how to handle missed doses. Talk with your doctor about what you should do if you accidentally miss a dose of a drug. Discuss what to do for each drug—it may be different for each one.
  • Learn what other drugs to avoid. Some drugs can cause a bad reaction or a decrease in effectiveness if they are taken with antiretroviral drugs.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Store drugs properly. Keeping drugs in a location that is too hot or too cold may decrease their effectiveness. Find out from your doctor or pharmacist how to properly store your drugs. Always store drugs out of the reach of children.
  • Watch for side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what to expect. Notify your doctor immediately if you have any serious side effects.
  • Avoid other drugs. Post your drugs-to-avoid list in a place where you can refer to it whenever you need to. Always check with your doctor before taking any additional drugs, prescription or nonprescription. This includes any herbal or "natural" supplements.
  • Review your drug list. Review your list and bring it with you each time you visit with your doctor. Tell your doctor about any side effects you are having.
  • Communicate with your doctor. Notify your doctor immediately if you have any serious side effects. Let your doctor know if you have any changes in your health that might affect your condition, such as weight loss or another medical condition.

You may be able to reduce the costs of your antiretroviral drugs and other drugs.

  • Compare prices among several drugstores.
  • Consider using a mail-order or online drugstore.
  • Every state has a program (called the Ryan White Care Act) that helps pay the cost of HIV medicines for people who can't afford them.
  • Companies that make HIV medicine have programs to provide their medicine at a reduced cost for people who can't afford them.

Test Your Knowledge

I need to develop a drug plan with my doctor that includes a list of all my drugs and their names, dosages, and when to take them.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    You need to develop a drug plan with your doctor that includes a list of all your drugs and their names, dosages, and schedules. You and your doctor can establish what drugs you need to take, their dosages, and when to take them. You will also need to know what other drugs to avoid.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    You do need to develop a drug plan with your doctor that includes a list of all your drugs and their names, dosages, and schedules. You and your doctor can establish what drugs you need to take, their dosages, and when to take them. You will also need to know what other drugs to avoid.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have more knowledge about your antiretroviral drugs and some tools to help you take them, you are ready to develop your plan for taking your drugs correctly.

Work in partnership with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to use a highlighter to mark areas or make notes in the margins of the pages where you have questions.

Also be sure to discuss any questions you have about your antiretroviral therapy schedule or if you are having difficulty following your drug schedule.

Return to topic:

References

Citations

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents (2012). Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents. Available online: http://aidsinfo.nih.gov/contentfiles/lvguidelines/adultandadolescentgl.pdf.
  2. Thompson MA, et al. (2012). Antiretroviral treatment of adult HIV infection: 2012 recommendations of the International Antiviral Society—USA Panel. JAMA, 308(4): 387–402.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents (2011). Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents. Available online: http://www.aidsinfo.nih.gov/ContentFiles/AdultandAdolescentGL.pdf.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised November 7, 2012

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