There is no cure for HIV and AIDS, but medicines can help. Many people with HIV live long and relatively healthy lives.
HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) damages your immune system by attacking blood cells that help fight infection.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the condition that develops if HIV is not treated.
The medications used to fight HIV are called antiretrovirals. They work to stop the virus multiplying. This helps to protect your immune system from damage caused by HIV.
The medications used to treat HIV and AIDS may be similar.
If your immune system has already been damaged, treatment can help stop further damage and even allow the immune system to partly repair itself.
Types of antiretrovirals
Types of antiretrovirals include:
- nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs or 'nukes')
- non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs or 'non-nukes')
- protease inhibitors
- integrase inhibitors
- entry inhibitors
Usually a person with HIV will be prescribed a few different antiretrovirals at the same time. This is known as combination therapy.
As well as antiretrovirals, treatment can include drugs to guard against infections as your immune system may no longer be able to fight them.
When will I get treated with antiretrovirals?
Your doctor will talk to you and ask you to have blood tests to help determine if you need treatment, whether your treatment is working or if it needs to be changed.
These tests include viral load (the level of HIV in a small amount of your blood) and a CD4 cell count. CD4 is the type of cell that is affected by HIV.
What are the side effects of antiretrovirals?
Not everyone has side effects from their drugs and not everyone will have the same side effects.
Another possible side effect is resistance to medication, which means the medication isn’t working as well as it should.
You can lower the chance of resistance to medication by choosing effective medication, by not missing doses and by using a combination of medications instead of just one.
Please tell your doctor if you have any symptoms you are concerned about rather than stopping your medication on your own.
How long does treatment take?
Most people who start taking antiretrovirals take them for life.
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Last reviewed: January 2020