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Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library HIV: Taking Antiretroviral Drugs

HIV: Taking Antiretroviral Drugs


Taking antiretroviral drugs for HIV will not cure your infection. But it may allow you to stay healthy for a long time. And treatment can help prevent spreading the infection to other people.

Your willingness and ability to follow your antiretroviral therapy schedule exactly as prescribed is essential for successful treatment of your HIV infection. Not following your prescribed HIV therapy may cause treatment failures, such as:

  • Drug resistance. The virus that causes HIV can become resistant to antiretroviral drugs used to treat the infection.
  • Higher viral loads. This measures how much HIV is present in your blood.
  • Disease progression.

In the past a person had to take many pills several times a day, which was hard for some people. But over the past few years, this routine has become much simpler, and people take their medicine only once or twice a day. With the right knowledge and tools, you can successfully take your medicine as prescribed.

If you are at high risk for getting infected with HIV, you also may take antiretroviral medicine to help protect yourself from HIV infection. footnote 1 But to keep your risk low, you still need to practice safer sex even while you are taking the medicine.

How can you take your antiretroviral therapy drugs as prescribed?

How can you take your antiretroviral therapy drugs as prescribed?

In the past, a person had to take many pills several times a day, which was hard for some people. But over the past few years this routine has become much simpler. Now people take their medicine only once or twice a day. With the right knowledge and tools, you can successfully take your medicine as prescribed.

Work with your doctor when starting ART.

  • Know the names of all of your drugs.
    • Get a clear explanation of the actions and purpose of each of your drugs. If you understand what you are taking and how it is helping you, it may be easier to stay on your schedule.
    • Write down both the brand name and generic name for your drugs. Have your doctor check the list.
  • Know when to take your medicine. Write down when to take your medicine, and have your doctor check it. Get pictures of all of your drugs so you are sure you are taking the right drug and the right dose at the right time. Be sure you understand how much of each drug to take and when to take each one.
  • Know how to handle missed doses. Talk with your doctor about what you should do if you accidentally miss a dose of a drug. Discuss what to do for each drug—it may be different for each one.
  • Learn what other drugs to avoid. Some drugs can cause a bad reaction or a decrease in effectiveness if they are taken with antiretroviral drugs.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Store drugs properly. Keeping drugs in a location that is too hot or too cold may decrease their effectiveness. Find out from your doctor or pharmacist how to properly store your drugs. Always store drugs out of the reach of children.
  • Watch for side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what to expect. Notify your doctor immediately if you have any serious side effects.
  • Avoid other drugs. Post your drugs-to-avoid list in a place where you can refer to it whenever you need to. Always check with your doctor before taking any additional drugs, prescription or nonprescription. This includes any herbal or "natural" supplements.
  • Review your drug list. Review your list and bring it with you each time you visit with your doctor. Tell your doctor about any side effects you are having.
  • Communicate with your doctor. Notify your doctor immediately if you have any serious side effects. Let your doctor know if you have any changes in your health that might affect your condition, such as weight loss or another medical condition.

You may be able to reduce the costs of your antiretroviral drugs and other drugs.

  • Compare prices among several drugstores.
  • Consider using a mail-order or online drugstore.
  • Every state has a program (called the Ryan White Care Act) that helps pay the cost of HIV medicines for people who can't afford them.
  • Companies that make HIV medicine have programs to provide their medicine at a reduced cost for people who can't afford them.



  1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Preexposure prophylaxis for the prevention of HIV infection in the United States—2017 update: A clinical practice guideline. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed July 28, 2018.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

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