For those living with HIV, taking many medications at once raised the risk of non-adherence to HIV medications, according to a new study conducted by a team of pharmacists in Spain. The study followed 594 HIV-positive patients who started antiretroviral therapy between January 2002 and December 2011. Of the patients selected, about 66% also had hepatitis C, while about 8% had hepatitis B.
For the study, patients with two or more chronic conditions were classified as having "polypathology" -- "many illnesses" -- while those with medication regimens that included five or more prescription drugs were labeled "polypharmacy" (many drugs).
Overall, about 75% of people in the study were deemed adherent to antiretroviral therapy. However, many factors kept the other 25% from staying adherent, including intravenous drug use and "multiple pill burden."
"Regarding polypharmacy, the percentage of nonadherent patients was significantly higher than the percentage of adherent patients," the authors wrote. In other words, as the amount of pills you take goes up, the chance of nonadherence does as well.
This research echoes the findings in a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases in February 2014.
This news does not bode well for many people living with HIV, including those living with additional chronic illnesses besides hepatitis B and C. Because better treatment regimens allow people living with HIV to live longer, many conditions that come with old age -- and that require treatment with different medication -- are increasingly seen in people living with HIV. Also, illnesses that most frequently affect marginalized populations -- like diabetes or heart disease -- also affect people living with HIV.
"Nonadherence to [antiretroviral therapy] is especially concerning, since it is associated with reduced effectiveness in viral suppression, allows viral resistance, and increases the risk of opportunistic diseases," noted the researchers.
"The number of HIV-infected patients with polypharmacy has increased significantly, raising the risk of nonadherence," they concluded. They stressed that clinical pharmacists with specific training in HIV can be an important part of the medical care team working with people with HIV.
How many pills do you take a day? Do you consider your pills a "burden"? Has staying adherent when taking medications for other illnesses become a bigger problem?
Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.