Antiretroviral Medicines for HIV

About This Medicine

Make sure you know about each of the medicines you take. This includes why you take it, how to take it, what you can expect while you're taking it, and any warnings about the medicine.

The information provided here is general. So be sure to read the information that came with your medicine. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

What are some examples?

There are many types of antiretrovirals. Usually two or three medicines are combined in a single pill. This is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). There are many possible combinations. Most people take one or two pills a day.

Why are antiretrovirals used?

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces the amount of virus in your body (viral load). This helps keep your immune system healthy. ART can prevent AIDS and help you live a long and healthy life. And it can help prevent the spread of HIV to others.

How do they work?

When you take ART, the virus is slower to make copies of itself (multiply) in the body. This allows your immune system to stay healthy. But ART doesn't cure HIV. For the medicine to work, you will need to keep taking it every day.

What about side effects?

Some people feel sick to their stomach when they take these medicines. They may have belly pain or vomit. Some people have diarrhea. They may also feel tired or dizzy.

General information about side effects

All medicines can cause side effects. Many people don't have side effects. And minor side effects sometimes go away after a while.

But sometimes side effects can be a problem or can be serious.

If you're having problems with side effects, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may be able to lower your dose or change to a different medicine.

Always be sure you get specific information on the medicine you're taking. For a full list of side effects, check the information that came with the medicine you're using. If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

What are some cautions about antiretrovirals?

Cautions for antiretrovirals include the following:

  • It's very important to take your HIV medicine as prescribed. If you miss doses, HIV may become resistant to the medicine. This makes HIV harder to treat.

General cautions for all medicines

Allergic reactions.
All medicines can cause a reaction. This can sometimes be an emergency. Before you take any new medicine, tell the doctor or pharmacist about any past allergic reactions you've had.
Drug interactions.
Sometimes one medicine may keep another medicine from working well. Or you may get a side effect you didn't expect. Medicines may also interact with certain foods or drinks, like grapefruit juice and alcohol. Some interactions can be dangerous.
Harm during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, ask your doctor or pharmacist if all the medicines you take are safe.
Other health problems.
Before taking a medicine, be sure your doctor or pharmacist knows about all your health problems. The medicine for one health problem may affect another health problem.

Always tell your doctor or pharmacist about all the medicines you take. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. That information will help prevent serious problems.

Always be sure you get specific information on the medicine you're taking. For a full list of warnings, check the information that came with the medicine you're using. If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

Credits

Current as of: June 12, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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