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When to start treatment

Until recently, doctors weren’t sure of the best time to start HIV treatment. However, in 2015 a large, well-conducted study demonstrated that there are advantages to starting treatment as soon as possible, with high CD4 cell counts. The study clearly demonstrated that starting HIV treatment earlier reduces the risk of serious illnesses, AIDS and death. While people sometimes worry about the side-effects of anti-HIV drugs, the study also showed that people who began HIV treatment earlier had a better quality of life than people who waited.

Other large studies have shown that taking treatment and having an undetectable viral load dramatically reduces the risk of HIV transmission. 

And other research has shown that with HIV treatment many people living with HIV can have a more or less normal lifespan.

The sooner you start to take HIV treatment, the sooner you can benefit from it.

HIV treatment guidelines, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world, now recommend that all people with HIV should take HIV treatment, regardless of their CD4 count.

If your CD4 cell count is below 200, it is especially important that you begin HIV treatment as soon as possible. The lower your CD4 cell count, the greater the risk of HIV making you ill. But even at higher CD4 cell counts, above 500, treatment you take now will protect your health, both now and in the future.

While the medical case for starting treatment as soon as possible is clear cut, the decision to start treatment rests with the person living with HIV. Before starting treatment, it’s important that you understand how it works and what it involves. You may need a little time before you feel ready to start.

Anti-HIV drugs

Published October 2014

Last reviewed October 2014

Next review October 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 It may have been superseded by more recent developments.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.