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Some things that might help you to take your treatment properly

Simple forgetfulness is a common reason for missing doses of anti-HIV drugs. If you do forget to take your medication, don't be too hard on yourself, but do try to learn from the experience about what it was that caused you to forget. If you are missing doses regularly, do discuss this with your doctor. It may be possible to make your schedule easier, or to change to a more suitable combination for you. Where this is not an option, talking through your concerns with your healthcare team may provide you with the support you need to manage your treatment.

Keep a diary

Confusion over which pills to take when, and what times to eat or avoid food, may be a problem when starting a new combination. To avoid this, your doctor or pharmacist can provide a written daily schedule with your prescription, which you can tick off after taking your dose. Some pharmacists offer stickers for medication containers, which have the same function.

You can use NAM’s online tool, My drugs chart, to create a timetable for your treatment combination – you can print this out or save it to refer to.

Pill boxes

Partitioned containers, also called dosette boxes, that you fill once a week or every few days with your individual doses, are available. With some versions, you can take out a single day's dose, or several if you may be away for some time. Some dosette boxes also have alarms to remind you a dose is due.

Your HIV pharmacist should be able to provide one of these boxes free. Make sure that the box you're getting is big enough and that you have checked with your pharmacist that all your drugs are suitable for storing out of their original container. Some pills deteriorate if not kept correctly. The bottle that Truvada comes in, for instance, contains a small capsule that keeps the tablets dry.

Alarms and apps

Setting an alarm on your mobile phone or watch can serve as a useful reminder to take your pills.

There are also medication reminder apps you can download for use on a smartphone; you can find them on the app store for your sort of phone. Some are available free of charge and some will also help you keep track of the number of pills you have left in a supply.

Storing spares

Keeping spare doses of pills in a suitable container in your bag, jacket pocket, at work or college, at a friend’s or in the glove compartment of your car can mean that you have a dose available if you forget to take your pills or are unexpectedly away from home.

As with pill boxes, there may be a time limit on how long anti-HIV drugs can be kept in these places out of their original container – staff at your clinic can advise you on this.

Overcoming food restrictions

If you are on an HIV treatment combination that includes efavirenz, it is recommended you take it on an empty stomach. This means having a two-hour gap between eating and taking your medication. You should then wait at least one hour before eating again. Taking your pills just before you go to bed can work well, and can also reduce the impact of some of efavirenz’s side-effects. Some people find that taking efavirenz with food also reduces side-effects, but avoid taking it with a high-fat meal, which increases absorption of the drug.

If you have to take your HIV treatment with food, it’s useful to know that it’s usually not necessary to eat a full meal. A snack, such as a bowl of cereal, is often sufficient. Rilpivirine (Edurant, also in Eviplera) is the exception and must be taken with a meal. Ask your doctor, pharmacist or another member of your clinic team about how much food you need to take with your anti-HIV drugs.

Holidays and going out

Think about how going away for a break or on holiday could impact on your adherence. This could include the effect of travel on the times you take your medication, particularly if your travel involves a changed time zone. You should try and ensure that you take your medication at the same intervals as you normally do. You can adjust the times you take your anti-HIV drugs with advice from your clinic staff.

Make sure that you take enough medication with you when you travel, as securing more supplies might be difficult or even impossible. It’s a good idea to take a few extra doses in case you are delayed. You should also travel with your medication in your hand luggage as this is less likely to get lost and means that your medication is close at hand should you need to take any during your journey.

If you are flying or travelling across borders, consider getting a letter from your doctor giving the name and doses of the medications you are taking and explaining that you need to have the medication with you at all times. This will help ensure that you are allowed to carry the medication in your hand luggage (in case the airline is imposing any restrictions on what can be carried) and it may help you with customs officials should you be stopped. This letter doesn’t have to mention HIV; it can just talk about medication for a chronic condition.

When travelling, it is advisable to take a copy of your prescription with you and to keep your medicines in their original container with the pharmacy label attached. If you try to disguise your medicines they may be more likely to be confiscated.

Some countries impose entry restrictions on people with HIV and you may be considering stopping your treatment for the time you’re away. This is almost never recommended; talk to your doctor if you are thinking about doing this.

Breaking your routine may also have an impact on adherence as you may be away from prompts that helped you remember to take your medication. Think about what issues you might have with this and how to overcome them.

Taking your medication away from home may mean that there is an increased chance that you will have to take it with people who do not know about your health, or who you do not want to know about it. Plan in advance how you might manage this. Simple things such as having a bottle of water by your bed might give you the privacy you need to take your medication.

If you are going out for the night and think that there is a chance that you may not go home before your next medication dose or doses, take enough medication with you to cover that period. Be aware that door staff may not be able to recognise prescription medication and some people have been asked what their anti-HIV drugs are or have had them taken away when trying to get into some clubs.

If you are going out and are planning to drink alcohol or take drugs which might affect your memory, try to plan in advance how you might overcome this. This could involve setting an alarm on your watch or telling a friend to remind you when it is time to take your medication. If you are concerned about possible interactions between your HIV medication and recreational drugs, speak to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team. They should be able to offer advice on safely minimising interactions. Do not skip doses.

If you are having ongoing difficulties taking your medication, or are worried, ask for help immediately. Staff at your HIV clinic are there to help, and there are other sources of support (see Where to go for information, advice and support).

Taking your HIV treatment

Published March 2014

Last reviewed March 2014

Next review March 2017

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.