HIV is caused by a virus known as a retrovirus. The combination of medications used to treat HIV is known as antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Although there remains no cure for HIV infection, ART enables people with HIV to live a normal, healthy and quality life. ART controls and reduces the amount of virus in a person’s body fluids and blood, hence, slows down the progression into AIDS and death.
ART is recommended to everyone with HIV, regardless of at what stage, and how healthy the person is. ART also reduces an infected person’s risk of spreading HIV to others.
ART usually comes in a combination of 3 or more drugs. With medical advancement, there are available options of 1 pill to combine multiple drugs together.
When should I start HIV treatment?
You should begin antiretroviral therapy (ART) as soon as possible after the diagnosis of HIV infection. Any delay of treatment will allow HIV virus to continue to destroy your immune system, putting yourself at higher risk of developing AIDS.
What do I expect when I consult my doctor on HIV treatment?
Your doctor will take into account your other concurrent medical conditions and any other medicines that you may be taking as there may be interactions with ART.
You will need more regular follow up with your doctor at the initial stage of starting of ART treatment. You will be offered regular blood tests to monitor whether you are responding well to the ART treatment.
Two important blood tests are:
- HIV viral load blood test- This is to monitor the amount of HIV virus in your blood
- CD4 lymphocyte cells count blood test- This measures how much HIV has affected your immune system
Most people who take HIV ART treatment daily are able to reach undetectable HIV viral load within 6 months of starting treatment. Following ART treatment, the CD4 lymphocyte cells count usually rise slowly. These 2 blood tests will determine whether HIV infection is well controlled.
Often, your doctor may recommend you to change your HIV medicine if notice your medication is not working as well as they should. You should let your doctor know if you or your partner is pregnant or planning for pregnancy.
What are the common side effects of HIV treatment ART?
Some common side effects that you may experience:
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Headache and dizziness
- Difficulty to sleep
- Skin rash
Do I still need to continue my HIV medication if my viral load is undetectable?
YES. When your HIV viral load has diminished and reached an undetectable level when you are on ART, it means your treatment is working, and you should continue your medication. If you stop your ART, the HIV virus will no longer be suppressed and it will multiply rapidly. It is important to keep your viral load at an undetectable level so that you can remain healthy, and this slows down the progression to AIDS. Also, an undetectable viral load places you at low risk of transmitting HIV to other people.
What are the perks of taking HIV medicine regularly?
- ART medication reduces the amount of HIV in your body. This helps to maintain your immune system, giving you a better chance to fight infections.
- ART medication reduces your risk of passing HIV to others.
- ART medication reduces the risk of drug resistance.
What should I do if I miss my dose of HIV medicine?
- If you miss a dose, you can take the medicine as soon as possible, then take the next dose at your usual scheduled time.
- If you often miss a lot of doses, you should speak to your doctor on ways to aid you to remember taking your medicine. You will need to work out a treatment regimen with your doctor to fit your health care needs and lifestyle to ensure good medication compliance.
It is important to reiterate the imperativeness of taking your HIV medicine regularly. This is the only way to keep your HIV viral load low and CD4 lymphocytes cell count high. A poor compliant of medicine will allow HIV virus to multiply fast, damage your immune system, and place you at higher risk for AIDS.