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Understanding the efficacy of Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) in HIV treatment |newsway

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Antiretroviral drugs

What is HIV treatment?

HIV treatment involves taking medicine that reduces the amount of HIV in your body.

  • HIV medicine is called antiretroviral therapy (ART).
  • There is no effective cure for HIV. But with proper medical care, you can control HIV.
  • Most people can get the virus under control within six months.
  • Taking HIV medicine does not prevent transmission of other sexually transmitted diseases.

When should I start treatment?

Start Treatment As Soon As Possible After Diagnosis

  • HIV medicine is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they’ve had the virus or how healthy they are.
  • Talk to your health care provider about any medical conditions you may have or any other medicines you are taking.
  • Let your health care provider know if you or your partner is pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant. They will determine the right type of HIV medicine that can help prevent transmitting HIV to your baby.

What if I delay treatment?

  • HIV will continue to harm your immune system.
  • This will put you at higher risk for developing AIDS. Learn more about AIDS and opportunistic infections.
  • This will put you at higher risk for transmitting HIV to your sexual and injection partners.

What are the benefits of taking my HIV medicine every day as prescribed?

Treatment Reduces the Amount of HIV in the Blood

  • The amount of HIV in the blood is called viral load.
  • Taking your HIV medicine as prescribed will help keep your viral load low and your CD4 cell count high.
  • HIV medicine can make the viral load very low (called viral suppression). Viral suppression is defined as having less than 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood.
  • HIV medicine can make the viral load so low that a test can’t detect it (called an undetectable viral load).
  • If your viral load goes down after starting HIV treatment, that means treatment is working. Continue to take your medicine as prescribed.
  • If you skip your medications, even now and then, you are giving HIV the chance to multiply rapidly. This could weaken your immune system, and you could become sick.
  • Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load (or staying virally suppressed) is the best way to stay healthy and protect others.

Treatment Helps Prevent Transmission to Others

  • If you have an undetectable viral load, you have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex.
  • Having an undetectable viral load may also help prevent transmission from injection drug use. We don’t have data about whether having an undetectable viral load prevents transmission through sharing needles, syringes, or other injection equipment (for example, cookers). It very likely reduces the risk, but we don’t know by how much.
  • Having an undetectable viral load also helps prevent transmission from mother to baby. If a mother with HIV takes HIV medicine as prescribed throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery and gives HIV medicine to her baby for 4 to 6 weeks after birth, the risk of transmitting HIV to her baby can be 1% or less.
  • Having an undetectable viral load reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to the baby through breastfeeding, but doesn’t eliminate the risk. The current recommendation in the United States is that mothers with HIV should not breastfeed their babies.

Taking Treatment as Prescribed Helps Prevent Drug Resistance

  • Taking HIV medication consistently, as prescribed, helps prevent drug resistance.
  • Drug resistance develops when people with HIV are inconsistent with taking their HIV medication as prescribed. The virus can change (mutate) and will no longer respond to certain HIV medication.
  • If you develop drug resistance, it will limit your options for successful HIV treatment.
  • Drug-resistant strains of HIV can be transmitted to others.

Does HIV medicine cause side effects?

HIV medicine can cause side effects in some people. However, not everyone experiences side effects. The most common side effects are

  • Nausea and vomiting,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Difficulty sleeping,
  • Dry mouth,
  • Headache,
  • Rash,
  • Dizziness,
  • Fatigue, and
  • Pain.

Talk to your health care provider if your treatment makes you sick. Your health care provider may prescribe medicines to help manage the side effects or may change your treatment plan.

Will HIV treatment interfere with my hormone therapy?

  • There are no known drug interactions between HIV medicine and hormone therapy.
  • Talk to your health care provider if you are worried about taking HIV medicine and hormone therapy at the same time. Your health care provider will help you stay healthy and ensure your hormone therapy stays on track.

What if my treatment is not working?

  • Your health care provider may change your prescription.
  • A change is not unusual because the same treatment does not affect everyone in the same way.

Sticking to my treatment plan is hard. How can I deal with the challenges?

Tell your health care provider right away if you’re having trouble sticking to your plan. Together you can identify the reasons you’re skipping medications and make a plan to address those reasons.

Talk to your health care provider about problems taking your HIV medicine.

  • Problems taking pills. This can make staying on treatment challenging. Your health care provider can offer tips and ideas for addressing these problems.
  • Side effects from medicine. Nausea or diarrhea can make a person not want to take their pills. There are medicines or other support, like nutritional counseling to make sure you’re getting important nutrients. This can help with the most common side effects.
  • Treatment fatigue. Some people find that sticking to their treatment plan becomes harder over time. Make it a point to talk to your health care provider about staying on your treatment plan.

Plan ahead and keep extra medicine with you.

  • A busy schedule. Work or travel away from home can make it easy to forget to take pills. It may be possible to keep extra medicine at work or in your car. But talk to your health care provider first. Some medications are affected by extreme temperatures and it is not always possible to keep medications at work.

Find help for mental health or substance use disorders.

  • Being sick or depressed. How you feel mentally and physically can affect your willingness to stick to your treatment plan. Your health care provider, social worker, or case manager can refer you to a mental health provider or local support groups.
  • Alcohol or drug use. If substance use is interfering with your ability to keep yourself healthy, it may be time to quit or better manage it.
  • If you need help finding substance use disorder treatment or mental health services, use SAMHSA’s Treatment Locatorexternal icon.

Talk to your health care provider if you miss a lot of doses of your HIV medicine.

  • Missing a dose. In most cases, you can take your medicine as soon as you realize you missed a dose. Then take the next dose at your usual scheduled time (unless your pharmacist or health care provider has told you something different).
  • Missing a lot of doses. Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about ways to help you remember your medicine. You and your health care provider may even decide to change your treatment routine to fit your health care needs and life situation.

Join a support group or ask your family and friends for support. They can help you stick to your treatment plan.


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