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Adherence to HIV Drug Regimens

April 21, 2017

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Overcoming Barriers

Despite the many demands in women's lives, numerous studies have found that women are just as likely to adhere to HIV regimens as men, especially when women have longstanding and trusting relationships with their health care providers.

Even though it may be embarrassing, it is important to tell your health care provider about the number of times you have missed doses or did not take your HIV drugs correctly. He or she may suggest a change in your dosing schedule or drug regimen that makes it easier. Newer HIV drugs require fewer pills per day and have fewer food restrictions. There are also new ways to combine older drugs that make them easier to take.

Adherence Tips

  • Understand that the medications will help you fight the virus and stay well. If you do not think they will, you will not bother taking your pills correctly. If you have any doubts, speak to your health care provider or staff at an AIDS service organization (ASO).
  • Some women find that connecting their pill-taking with a higher purpose or good intention helps. This intention could be spiritual in nature, or something like staying healthy for the sake of family, friends, or others served by your unique gifts.
  • Use a daily activity, one that you do every day without fail (like waking up in the morning, walking your dog, brushing your teeth, or going to bed at night), to remind you to take your pills. When it is time to do that activity, you will know that it is also time to take your pills. If you have children who take medicines or vitamins, you may consider taking your HIV drugs when they take their medicine so the whole family stays healthy together.
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  • If you do not want others to see you taking your pills, quietly slip away to a private area or the bathroom. If that will not work, say the medications are for another health problem or that they are vitamins.
  • If you think substance use or mental health issues (such as depression) are preventing you from taking your medications correctly, talk to your health care provider or case manager so they can get you help. There are good treatments available.
  • Take advantage of tools available from your clinic or pharmacy such as pillboxes, calendars, diaries, and beepers to help you remember to take your medications on time.
  • Try one of the many different smart phone apps that send medication reminders. There are several free apps available (e.g., Dosecast, Medisafe Meds & Pill Reminder, MyTherapy, PillPack).
  • If you remove the labels on your HIV drugs' pill bottles (e.g., to conceal what you are taking from others), it will be important to develop a system to make sure that you know which HIV drugs you need to take at what time. You may consider marking the pill bottles with different names and recording those new names on a slip of paper that you keep safe for reference. You can also add quick reminders to the bottles (that were originally on the labels), such as "take one every a.m."
  • Plan ahead for refills or trips so you do not run out of any medications.

Finding Support

Adherence is hard work and takes a lot of commitment. It helps to have other people on your side. One way to do this is to join or put together a support network. Your health care provider is one of the most important people in your network. Talk openly with him or her about how to fit HIV treatment into your lifestyle.

There are many other sources of information and support available to women who are taking or thinking about taking HIV drugs. If you can, include family, friends, case managers, treatment educators, and counselors in your network. You can also get involved with your local ASO or a support group. These are places where you will be able to ask questions, get good tips, and share experiences with others who understand what it is like to live with HIV. When you are feeling discouraged, turn to your network for support and encouragement.

Also, try to remember the big picture. It can be hard to take pills every day, but easier when you know why you are doing it. You want to be adherent to give your HIV drugs the best chance of working to keep you healthy. This will allow you to focus on the things you care about -- including the important people in your life like your children, partners, family, and friends.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.

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