Anti-HIV/AIDS Medications

I am HIV positive. Do I need to take anti-
HIV medications?
You do not necessarily need to take anti-HIV (also called
antiretroviral) medications just because you are HIV
positive. You and your doctor will determine the best time
to start treatment. When to take anti-HIV medications
depends on your overall health, the amount of virus in
your blood (viral load), and how well your immune
system is working.
How will I know when to start anti-HIV
medications?
You should start treatment if:
• you are experiencing severe symptoms of HIV infection
 or have been diagnosed with AIDS
• your CD4 count is 350 cells/mm3 or less (especially if
200 cells/mm3 or less)
• you are pregnant
• you have HIV-related kidney disease
• you are being treated for hepatitis B
If anti-HIV medications can help me stay
healthy, why wait to start treatment?
Once you begin treatment, you may need to continue
taking anti-HIV medications for the rest of your life.
Although newer anti-HIV medications are easier to
take, starting treatment usually means a significant
adjustment in your lifestyle. Some anti-HIV/AIDS medications
need to be taken several times a day at specific times
and may require a change in the foods you eat, when
you eat meals, and when you take other medications.
In addition to their desired effects, anti-HIV medications
may have negative side effects, some of which are
serious. If the virus is not suppressed completely, drug
resistance can develop. Side effects and drug resistance
may limit your future treatment options.
 
Terms Used in This Fact Sheet:
AIDS: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is the
most severe form of HIV infection. HIV infected patients are
diagnosed with AIDS when their CD4 count falls below 200
cells/mm3 or if they develop an AIDS-defining illness (an
illness that is very unusual in someone who is not HIV
positive).
Antiretroviral: a medication that interferes with replication of
retroviruses. HIV is a retrovirus.
CD4 count: CD4 cells, also called T cells or CD4+ T cells, are
white blood cells that fight infection. HIV destroys CD4 cells,
making it harder for your body to fight infections. A CD4
count is the number of CD4 cells in a sample of blood.
Drug resistance testing: A laboratory test to determine if an
individual’s HIV strain is resistant to any anti-HIV
medications. HIV can mutate (change form), resulting in HIV
that cannot be controlled with certain medications.
Viral load: the amount of HIV in a sample of blood.
 
What treatment is right for me?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
(HHS) provides HIV treatment guidelines to doctors and
patients. These guidelines recommend that you take a
combination of three or more medications from different
classes (see Approved Medications to Treat HIV
Infection Fact Sheet) in a regimen called Highly Active
Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART). The guidelines list
«preferred» HAART regimens. However, your regimen
should be tailored to your needs. Factors to consider in
selecting a treatment regimen include:
• your drug resistance testing results
• number of pills
• how often the pills must be taken
• if pills can be taken with or without food
• how the medications interact with one another
• other medications you take
• other diseases or conditions
• pregnancy