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Antiretroviral Therapy

Stop the stigma. Get the facts.

What is ART?

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) are medicines used to treat HIV. ART works by preventing the virus from replicating (i.e., it stops the virus from making copies of itself) and attacking your immune system. This means that if the virus is not replicating, then it is not affecting new cells.

The best way to control the virus is to combine 2 or more medications from different drug classes. There are multiple benefits to this approach. First, using a combination of medicines from different drug classes interrupts different stages in the HIV life cycle, thereby preventing the virus from replicating and decreasing the amount of HIV in your blood (viral load). Another advantage is that it reduces the risk of drug resistance. Drug resistance occurs when the virus mutates and no longer responds to treatment. Lastly, it effectively suppresses the virus to undetectable levels in your blood. This ultimately leads to slowing the progression of the virus, allowing you to stay healthy and prevent the transmission of HIV.

Taking multiple medications from different drug classes does not imply that you must take multiple pills every day. There are numerous fixed-dose combination medications on the market, meaning that you take only a single pill that contains multiple HIV medications. Pills are no longer the only option; there is an injectable HIV treatment available.

Why is ART adherence important?

Taking your antiretroviral therapy (ART) regimen as prescribed is very important. Being adherent involves taking the correct dose at the correct time and as directed (e.g., with or without food). Taking ART as prescribed keeps the right amount of the drug in your body, which is needed to achieve and maintain a low viral load. If you do not take ART as prescribed, drug levels will decrease, and the virus will start replicating, ultimately leading to an increase in your viral load. Also, sticking closely to your ART schedule will help prevent drug resistance.

Taking ART daily may take time to get used to, especially if you have not previously taken medications on a regular basis. Creating a daily routine (e.g., taking ART immediately upon waking up each morning or after feeding your pet) or using reminders (e.g., setting the alarm on your smartphone) may help you remember to take your HIV medicine as prescribed. If you are worried about missing a dose or taking ART with other medications, you may want to use a pillbox to organize your pills. You will also have to plan ahead if you are going away for a few days to ensure you have enough pills until you return home.

What are the goals of ART?

The goals of HIV treatment are to:

  • Get your viral load as low as possible and for as long as possible
  • Restore or improve your immune system by increasing your CD4 count
  • Improve your quality of life and reduce the risk of illness
  • Prevent the transmission of HIV to other people

AIDS Resource is here to help you achieve your goals. For information about our services, please go to Client Services or contact us to talk about how we can assist you. Your confidentiality is of utmost importance to us.

Why are there so many names for the same drug?

Drugs typically have multiple names. After receiving Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, drugs are given generic and brand names. The generic name tends to be more difficult to remember because it is named after the drug’s chemical name, structure, or formula. In contrast, the brand name tends to be easier to remember and is sometimes a shortened version of the generic name. Drugs may also be identified by an abbreviation. For instance, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate is the generic name for Viread, also known as TDF.

HIV.gov has a patient-friendly drug database specifically for HIV medications. This source provides a wealth of information about the drug’s brand and generic names, its abbreviation, how to pronounce the drug, dosing, side effects, what to do if you miss a dose, and how to store the drug.