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Your Ability to Start and Maintain

Part Two of Three in Project Inform's "What You Should Know About When to Start and What Meds to Use" Booklet

July 2011

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Keeping Up With Taking Meds

All HIV meds go through extensive research to find the optimal dose to keep HIV under control, without causing unnecessary side effects for most people. They're usually taken once or twice a day, with or without food, because that's the best amount of that drug to suppress HIV. For this and other reasons it's important to adhere to your drugs, which means to take every dose as prescribed every day.


One main reason to adhere to your regimen is to prevent resistance: a key reason why treatment fails to keep HIV under control. It will eventually force a person to change to another regimen.

Sometimes people don't take their HIV meds when they feel sick from a cold or the flu. Others won't take them because of, or even for fear of, side effects. Sometimes, life just gets too busy to remember to take every dose. If you miss a dose, don't panic: take the next one on time and try to get back on schedule.

In the case of side effects, it's better to try to manage them for awhile rather than miss a dose, take fewer pills or quickly change your regimen. Some HIV meds may cause fewer side effects if you take them at bedtime or with a meal. Other medicines can be used to lessen side effects like nausea. Consult your doctor for help with side effects, especially difficult ones.

Be sure you understand how to take the medicine. Don't be embarrassed to ask your doctor, physician's assistant or pharma­cist what the prescription mean. For example, once a day doesn't mean whenever you want to take it each day. It means to take it every 24 hours. Don't be afraid to ask others for resources or suggestions to support your adherence.

Side Effects

Your Ability to Start and Maintain

Although most people wonder or worry about side effects, it's impossible to predict who may have them. All drugs, including HIV meds, can cause side effects but not everyone will have them. Some people experience few or no side effects, while others have ones that are manageable. For still others, side effects may be moderate to severe, and can interfere with quality of life. You may also hear a troublesome story from someone else, but that doesn't mean you'll experience those same side effects from the same drug or regimen. HIV drugs affect everyone individually.

Short-term side effects (like headache, fever, nausea) normally appear during the first few weeks of taking a new drug. They often get better or disappear as your body gets used to the meds. Occasionally, side effects reappear due to stress or other infections.

In general, people with better overall health usually experience fewer short-term side effects. If you start later when you're less healthy, you may experience more symptoms.

You and your doctor will keep track of long-term side effects by routinely running blood tests. These can include changes in blood fats or in certain blood proteins (such as ALT, AST, amylase and creatinine) that indicate possible problems with certain organs, including the liver and kidneys. Over time, these changes can progress to other conditions like diabetes or liver disease.

Drug Interactions

Drug interactions are possible whenever you take two or more drugs together, whether they're prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs like cold medicine, recreational drugs or even herbal products. Even food can interact with drugs. The more meds you take, such as hormonal birth control or meds for high blood pressure or even erectile dysfunction, the more likely you could experience an interaction. This is also true about taking HIV meds with some herbal products, especially St. John's Wort.

Given the number of drugs used to treat HIV and other conditions that are common among HIV-positive people, possible drug interactions are more likely. Not only does each drug have its own possible side effects, that drug may also increase or decrease the effectiveness of other drugs. Drug interactions are not always considered when making treatment decisions, but they can certainly play a major role in its success.

Thinking ahead about possible interactions can help you avoid unnecessary side effects. Make sure your doctor knows about all the drugs and supplements you take, including over-the-counter products and recreational drugs. Don't forget that your pharmacist can be an invaluable resource. Drug interaction tools are also available online.

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This article was provided by Project Inform. Visit Project Inform's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
"What You Should Know About When to Start and What Meds to Use": Table of Contents
Part One: Understanding the Details of HIV Treatment
Part Three: Getting Ready to Start HIV Treatment

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