Benefits and Risks of Early Antiretroviral Therapy for HIV
Medical experts recommend that people begin treatment for HIV as soon as they know that they are infected.1, 2 Treatment is especially important for pregnant women, people who have other infections (such as tuberculosis or hepatitis), and people who have symptoms of AIDS.
You may want to think about these
benefits and risks and discuss all the issues with your doctor.
Benefits and risks of antiretroviral therapy for HIV
| Type of therapy|
Early therapy: Treatment with antiretroviral medicines as soon as HIV is diagnosed.
Delayed therapy: Treatment with antiretroviral medicines some time after HIV is diagnosed.
- Increases ability to achieve and maintain
control of viral replication.
- Delays or prevents
weakening of the immune system.
- Slows or prevents progression
of HIV to AIDS.
- Lowers risk of
resistance to the medicines, if viral suppression is
- Reduces risk of HIV transmission.
Even with early therapy, the risk of HIV
transmission still exists. Antiretroviral therapy cannot substitute for primary
HIV prevention measures, such as condom use and safe sex practices.
- Reduces inflammation caused by HIV. This may reduce problems linked to HIV infection such as kidney or liver damage.
- Avoids negative effects on quality of life,
such as the cost of the medicine.
- Avoids side effects of the medicines.
- Delays development of
resistance to the medicines.
- Preserves the
maximum number of medicine options when HIV disease risk is highest.
- Medicine-related side effects that may
reduce your quality of life.
- Earlier development of
resistance to the medicines if viral suppression is
- Limitation of future antiretroviral treatment
- Possible risks of starting antiretroviral therapy before
HIV-related symptoms develop.
- Irreversible damage to the immune system,
which might have been avoided by earlier treatment.
- Greater chance
of getting sick.
- Greater difficulty in preventing the virus from
- Possible increase in the risk of HIV
- Increase in the risk of death from an AIDS-related
U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents (2012). Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents
in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents. Available online: http://aidsinfo.nih.gov/contentfiles/lvguidelines/adultandadolescentgl.pdf.
Thompson MA, et al. (2012). Antiretroviral treatment of adult HIV infection: 2012 recommendations of the International Antiviral Society—USA Panel. JAMA, 308(4): 387–402.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Peter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine|
|Last Revised||November 7, 2012|