Can HIV be cured?

There has been, and continues to be, lots of research into possible cures.

Current treatment means that many people with HIV are living long and healthy lives, but it does not cure HIV.

How is HIV treated?

Treatment for HIV involves taking a combination of anti-HIV (antiretroviral) drugs. This treatment has a very powerful anti-HIV effect and stops the virus from reproducing.

This allows the immune system to strengthen and fight infections effectively.

To get the most benefit from your HIV treatment, you need to take it as prescribed, every day. This is often called ‘adherence’.

Where next?

What does HIV treatment involve?

HIV treatment involves taking anti-HIV drugs every day. These drugs do not cure HIV, but they can stop HIV from reproducing. This allows the immune system to stay strong.

There are now more than 20 of these drugs, although they are not all available everywhere in the world. HIV is normally treated with a combination of three different drugs, some of which might be combined into one pill. Most HIV treatment combinations are taken once or twice daily. This treatment has a very powerful anti-HIV effect. Thanks to HIV treatment, many people with the virus can live a long and healthy life.

If you are prescribed HIV treatment, you should aim to take all the doses. Missing just a few doses a month can mean that your treatment doesn’t work properly, and your HIV may become resistant to the drugs that you are taking.

Anti-HIV drugs can interact with other some other prescribed drugs, medications you can buy from a pharmacy, herbal remedies and illegal or recreational drugs. To reduce the risk of interactions, it’s important to tell your HIV doctor or pharmacist about any other medicines or drugs you are taking.

You should be monitored regularly to see if your treatment is working. If you do encounter a problem with your treatment, it should be possible to do something about it.

Where next?

Where can I go for treatment and care?

Medical care for HIV happens in a wide range of hospital and other medical settings, depending on where you are in the world.

The best treatment and care for HIV is often at specialist HIV clinics.

In the UK, these are provided by the National Health Service (NHS). The treatment and care provided by these clinics will be free, whatever your financial situation or immigration status. You can choose where you receive your HIV care – you don’t have to go to your local hospital.

In many parts of the world, most of the care given to people with HIV happens at home. It is provided by family and friends, perhaps with some help from an organisation that provides home-based care.

You can use the e-atlas on this website to find treatment centres and other HIV services near where you are.

What can I do to help myself?

There’s a lot you can do to look after your physical and mental health and general wellbeing.

Leading a healthy lifestyle is a good start. This includes getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking, only drinking sensible amounts of alcohol, and avoiding or moderating drug use.

Attending your clinic appointments is important and, if you are on HIV treatment, then taking it properly is a very important part of staying well.

It’s also important to look after your mental health and emotional wellbeing. Depression and anxiety are common issues, and acknowledging how you feel and finding support to deal with concerns or mental health issues should not be overlooked.   

Living with HIV can be hard at times, and most people need the help of others from time to time. Don’t be frightened or embarrassed to ask for help.

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What are the side-effects of HIV treatment?

All medicines can cause side-effects, and this includes those used to treat HIV. The early treatments developed for HIV had some serious side-effects, and people sometimes worry that starting HIV treatment will make them unwell. However, although they can still cause side-effects, modern HIV treatment is much easier to take.

Common side-effects you might have when you first start a treatment are diarrhoea, feeling or being sick, and headache. Some drugs can also cause problems sleeping, including vivid dreams, a feeling of being ‘spaced out’ or depression.

Most people find that these side-effects lessen or go away completely after a couple of weeks.

A few anti-HIV drugs can cause an allergic reaction. You should be screened for any risk factors, and warned about possible symptoms. If you do then have any of those symptoms, you should seek medical advice immediately. Contact your HIV clinic or Accident & Emergency (Casualty) at your local hospital if out of hours.

Longer-term side-effects can involve increased levels in blood fats and sugars, changes in kidney or liver function, or thinning of the bones. You’ll be monitored to see if you develop early signs of any of these side-effects.

It’s worth remembering that you don’t always have to put up with side-effects. Talk to a member of your healthcare team about any side-effects you experience as it may be possible to do something about them.

Where next?

When will I need to start taking HIV treatment?

There is no definite ‘right’ time to start HIV treatment.

There are different views on the benefits of starting treatment earlier and later. Guidelines on when people should start HIV treatment vary in different countries.

You and your healthcare team should think about your individual circumstances and weigh up the benefits and risks of starting treatment. HIV treatment is lifelong and starting treatment is a big commitment. If you feel comfortable about starting treatment and understand what is involved, you may be more likely to be able to take your treatment properly. You can use our online tool, Get set for HIV treatment, to help you decide if you are ready to start treatment.

However, it is recommended that you should start taking HIV treatment if you are ill because of HIV.

Where it’s available, testing for the strength of your immune system (called a CD4 cell count) should help determine whether you need to start treatment. In the UK, it’s recommended that people whose CD4 cell count is around 350 should start taking HIV treatment and in some cases treatment is recommended sooner. This is the case if you also have hepatitis B or C.

What should I ask my doctor?

If you don’t understand something, or if you want to know more about any subject, ask your doctor! Or there may be another member of your healthcare team who can help with a particular issue.

You should feel able to ask questions or tell your doctor, or another healthcare worker, about things that are bothering you. This will be important in staying as well as possible and increasing the chances of any treatment being successful.

It can help to spend a little time preparing for an appointment, so that you have considered what you might want to tell your doctor, or questions you might want to ask. Our online tool, Talking points, can help you prepare for an appointment with your doctor.

Anti-HIV drugs

Find out more about the drugs used to treat HIV.

Read our Anti-HIV drugs booklet >