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HIV Treatment

Following an HIV Regimen: Steps to Take Before and After Starting HIV Medicines

(Last updated 5/6/2014; last reviewed 5/6/2014)

Key Points

  • For people with HIV, medication adherence means sticking firmly to an HIV regimen—taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed.
  • Adherence to an HIV regimen gives HIV medicines a chance to do their job. HIV medicines prevent HIV from multiplying, which protects the immune system and reduces the risk of drug resistance.
  • This fact sheet offers people living with HIV tips on adherence to try before and after starting an HIV regimen.

Before starting an HIV regimen, talk to your health care provider about medication adherence.

Talking with your health care provider will help you understand why you’re starting HIV treatment and why medication adherence is important. Your health care provider will explain that taking HIV medicines every day can protect your health and prevent your HIV infection from advancing to AIDS. The HIV medicines will also reduce your risk of passing HIV to another person during sex. Your health care provider will emphasize that  adherence to an HIV regimen reduces the risk of drug resistance.

Information that you share with your health care provider will make it easier to select an HIV regimen that suits your needs. The information will also help you and your health care provider plan ahead for any issues that may make adherence difficult.

Tell your health care provider about other medicines you take, including vitamins, herbal supplements, and other medicines you buy without a prescription. Other medicines you take may interact with the HIV medicines in your HIV regimen. A drug interaction can cause a medicine to be less effective or stronger than desired. Drug interactions can also cause side effects.

Tell your health care provider about any personal issues that can make adherence difficult, such as depression or alcohol or drug use that interferes with the activities of daily life. If needed, your health care provider can recommend resources to help you address these issues before you start treatment.

Describe your schedule at home and at work to your health care provider. Working together, you can arrange your HIV medication schedule to match your day-to-day routine.

Ask your health care provider for written instructions on how to follow your HIV regimen. The instructions should include the following details:

  • Each HIV medicine included in your regimen
  • How many pills of each medicine to take
  • When to take each medicine
  • How to take each medicine (for example, with or without food)
  • Possible side effects from each medicine, including serious side effects
  • How to store each medicine

Try practicing the instructions by using small candies instead of actual HIV medicines. The practice will help you identify and address problems with adherence before you start your HIV regimen.

After you start an HIV regimen, use a variety of strategies to maintain adherence.

To maintain adherence over the long term, try some of the following strategies:

  • Use a 7-day pill box. Once a week, fill the pill box with your HIV medicines for the entire week.
  • Take your HIV medicines at the same time every day.
  • Set the alarm on your cell phone to remind you to take your medicines. (An alarm clock or timer works too.)
  • Ask your family members, friends, or coworkers to remind you to take your medicines.
  • Keep your medicines nearby. Keep a back-up supply of medicines at work or in your purse or briefcase.
  • Plan ahead for changes in your daily routine, including weekends and holidays. If you’re going away, pack enough medicine to last the entire trip.
  • Use a medicine diary to stay on track. There are many apps available for smartphones that you can use to record when you take your medicines. (Or if you prefer, use a paper bound diary.) Enter the name of each medicine; include the dose, number of pills to take, and when to take them. Record each medicine as you take it. Reviewing your diary will help you identify the times that you’re most likely to forget to take your medicines.
  • Keep all your medical appointments. Use a calendar to keep track of your appointments. If you run low on medicines before your next appointment, call your health care provider to renew your prescriptions.
  • Get additional tips on adherence by joining a support group for people living with HIV.

Don’t panic if you forget to take your HIV medicines.

Unless your health care provider tells you otherwise, take a medicine you missed as soon as you realize you skipped it. But if it’s almost time for the next dose of the medicine, don’t take the missed dose and just continue on your regular medication schedule. Don’t take a double dose of a medicine to make up for a missed dose.

Discuss medication adherence at each appointment with your health care provider.

Tell your health care provider if you’re having difficulty following your regimen. Don’t forget to mention any side effects you’re having. Side effects from HIV medicines are a major reason medication adherence can be difficult.

Let your health care provider know if your regimen is too complicated to follow. Your health care provider may recommend another regimen that involves taking fewer pills.

Discuss any personal issues that are causing you to skip medicines. Your health care provider can recommend resources to help you deal with the issues.

Learn more about adherence.


This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources: