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Taking your HIV treatment

Michael Carter, Selina Corkery

This booklet is a starting point for anyone who wants to know about treatment for HIV. It provides basic information about how HIV treatment works, what taking it involves and how to manage it in your life.

With modern HIV treatment, people with HIV can live a long and healthy life. You’ll get the most benefit from your treatment if you take each dose at the right time, in the right way (often described as ‘adherence’). If you don’t adhere to your HIV treatment, your HIV may become resistant to the drugs you are taking and possibly to other, similar drugs.

This booklet explains what adherence means, explains what might happen if you don’t take your treatment, and provides some advice to help you take it. It also briefly covers topics such as side-effects, drug interactions, why people sometimes need to change their HIV treatment and what this involves. 

This booklet is not intended to replace discussion with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. But it should provide you with a better understanding of taking HIV treatment and can be a starting point for discussions about the issues covered here.

  • HIV and anti-HIV drugs

    HIV is a virus which attacks the immune system – the body’s defence system against infection and illness. If you have HIV, you can take drugs to...

  • When to start treatment

    Treatment guidelines give a broad indication of when to start HIV treatment. However, there may be reasons why someone starts at a different time to others. Your...

  • Preparing to start your HIV treatment

    Taking antiretroviral therapy is a long-term commitment. At present, once you start the drugs, you are likely to have to take them for the rest of your...

  • Being involved in decisions about your treatment

    You’ll probably have an opportunity to think about starting treatment over a number of weeks or even months. You are more likely to take your HIV treatment correctly if...

  • Monitoring the safety and effectiveness of HIV treatment

    Before you start taking anti-HIV drugs, or if you need to switch to a new combination, you should have a number of blood tests. To help make sure...

  • What you think about your HIV treatment

    There’s evidence to show that people who understand the benefits of HIV treatment are more likely to take their treatment properly. It’s good to know that the...

  • Emotional wellbeing, mental health and your circumstances

    Emotional distress and mental health problems, such as depression, have been linked to people not taking HIV treatment properly. Particular events such as receiving an HIV diagnosis, bereavement,...

  • Recommended first HIV treatment combination

    In the UK, if you are starting HIV treatment for the first time, the recommended treatment is a combination of three drugs. The treatment guidelines recommend that, for most...

  • Generic medicines

    Before a medicine can be widely used in the UK, it must be granted a licence.This licence indicates that checks have been carried out on the drug’s...

  • Side-effects

    Like all medications, anti-HIV drugs can cause side-effects and these can be a reason why people don’t take their treatment properly. The risk of side-effects can vary between...

  • Drug interactions

    Many people with HIV need to take medicines to treat other health conditions. Taking two or more different drugs together may result in an alteration in the effectiveness...

  • HIV treatment, pregnancy and contraception

    When HIV treatment is used during pregnancy, it protects your health as well as playing an important role in preventing HIV being passed on from you to...

  • How anti-HIV drugs are dispensed

    You will get a prescription for your HIV treatment, when you attend your regular HIV clinic appointment, which you take to either the specialist HIV pharmacy (in larger...

  • Why taking your HIV treatment properly is so important

    The currently available anti-HIV drugs cannot cure HIV. However, treatment with a combination of these drugs (usually three) can reduce the amount of HIV in your blood (your...

  • What does taking your HIV treatment involve?

    Taking your drugs as prescribed is often called ‘adherence’. Adherence to your HIV treatment means: Taking all the medicines that make up your...

  • Factors that can affect adherence

    Medicines from the three main classes of anti-HIV drugs (nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors or NRTIs; non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors or NNRTIs; and protease inhibitors) are available in forms...

  • 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...

  • What is drug resistance?

    One of the possible consequences of not taking your HIV treatment properly is that your HIV will develop resistance to anti-HIV drugs. This section of the booklet provides...

  • Reducing the risk of resistance

    Taking your HIV treatment in the correct doses, at the right time, observing any food restrictions and avoiding interactions with other drugs will reduce the risk of resistance...

  • Resistance tests

    Blood tests are available which detect whether the HIV in your body is resistant to any anti-HIV drugs. It's recommended that you have a drug resistance test before...

  • Transmission of drug-resistant virus

    Some people contract HIV that is already resistant to one or more anti-HIV drugs (this has been the case for between 6 and 10% of people in...

  • Where to go for information, advice and support

    To find local organisations offering information and support, talk to staff at your HIV clinic or visit the e-atlas on our website: www.aidsmap.com/e-atlas British HIV Association (BHIVA) You can find...

  • Summary

    Thanks to antiretroviral treatment, many people with HIV now have a normal life expectancy.You’ll get the most benefit from your treatment...

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.

Talking points

Talking points is designed to help you talk to your doctor about HIV treatment.

Go to Talking points >
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.