HIV Treatment

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

Last Reviewed: January 31, 2019

Key Points

  • An essential part of effective HIV treatment is medication adherence. Medication adherence means sticking firmly to an HIV regimen—taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed.
  • Medication adherence reduces the risk of drug resistance and treatment failure. Medication adherence also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
  • Before starting an HIV regimen, tell your health care provider about any issues that can make adherence difficult, such as an unpredictable daily schedule or lack of health insurance.
  • After starting an HIV regimen, medication aids such as pill boxes, pill reminders, and medication diaries can help to maintain long-term medication adherence.

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. Medication adherence means sticking firmly to an HIV regimen—taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed.

Taking HIV medicines every day can protect your health and prevent HIV infection from advancing to AIDS. The HIV medicines will also reduce your risk of passing HIV to another person during sex. Adherence to an HIV regimen reduces the risk of drug resistance and treatment failure.

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 for any issues that may make adherence difficult. 

What should I tell my health care provider before starting an HIV regimen?

Tell your health care provider about other prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Other medicines you take may interact with the HIV medicines in your HIV regimen. A drug interaction can reduce or increase the effect of a medicine or cause side effects. To learn more, read the AIDSinfo What is a Drug Interaction? fact sheet.

Tell your health care provider about any issues that can make adherence difficult. Issues such as difficulty swallowing pills or lack of health insurance can make it hard to follow an HIV regimen. If needed, your health care provider can recommend resources to help you address any issues before you start treatment. 

Describe your daily schedule 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 much 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

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.) Or download the AIDSinfo Drug Database app to bookmark your HIV medicines, make notes, and set daily pill reminders.
  • Ask a family member or friend to remind you to take your medicines.
  • If possible, carry extra medicines with you in case you forget to take them at home.
  • 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 an app or an online or paper medicine diary to stay on track. 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 of your medical appointments. Use a calendar to keep track of your appointments. Be sure to refill your prescriptions before you run out of HIV medicines.
  • Join a support group for people living with HIV to get additional tips on medication adherence.

What should I do if I forget to take my HIV medicines?

Unless your health care provider tells you otherwise, take the 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; 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 (or from other medicines that you are taking) can interfere with medication adherence.

Let your health care provider know if your regimen is too complicated to follow. Your health care provider may recommend that you switch to a regimen with fewer HIV medicines.

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

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

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