Why taking your HIV treatment properly is important

To allow HIV treatment to work properly, it’s important that you take your HIV medication as prescribed. This is often called ‘adherence’, and it means taking the drugs at the right times, at the right dose, and following any advice about food restrictions. Adherence is the most important factor under your control in the success of your HIV treatment.

Not taking your HIV treatment properly could mean that:

  • The levels of the drugs in your blood are not high enough to effectively fight against HIV. If this happens, your HIV will be able to replicate.
  • Your viral load will increase and your CD4 cell count (an important indicator of the health of your immune system) will fall. This situation increases your chances of becoming ill because of HIV.
  • Your HIV develops resistance to one or more anti-HIV drugs. The strains of HIV that reproduce when you’re taking HIV treatment may be resistant to the drugs you are taking. Resistance can mean that your HIV treatment won’t work effectively.
  • Your HIV may also become resistant to drugs similar to those you are currently taking (that is, in the same ‘class’ of drugs). This is called cross-resistance and the risk varies between different classes of HIV drugs.
  • Your viral load will increase to a level at which you may pass HIV on to a sexual partner (if condoms or pre-exposure prophylaxis – PrEP – are not being used).
  • You would then need to change your HIV treatment. This new treatment might be more difficult to take than the combination you were taking before. It might have more, or new, side-effects.
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