Why Should You Take Your HIV Medication Every Day?
Taking your HIV medication daily as prescribed provides many benefits. Among them, it:
- Allows the HIV medication to reduce the amount of HIV in your body (also called the viral load) to a very low level. This is called viral suppression. If the viral load is so low that it doesn't show up in a standard lab test, this is called having an undetectable viral load. Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load is the best thing you can do to stay healthy.
- Helps protect your partners. If you take HIV medication every day, exactly as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load, you have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex. This is called Treatment as Prevention
Taking your HIV medication daily is also important because skipping doses makes it easier for HIV to change form, causing your medication to stop working. This is called drug resistance. HIV can become resistant to your medication and to similar medications that you have not yet taken. This limits your options for successful HIV treatment. Drug-resistant strains of HIV can be transmitted to others, too.
What Should You Do If You Miss a Dose?
Taking your HIV medication every day, exactly the way your health care provider tells you to will help keep your viral load low and your CD4 cell count high. If you skip doses, even now and then, you are giving HIV the chance to multiply rapidly. This could weaken your immune system, and you could become sick.
Talk to your health care provider if you miss a dose. In most cases, if you realize you missed a dose, take the medicines as soon as you can, then take the next dose at your usual scheduled time (unless your pharmacist or health care provider has told you something different).
If you find you miss a lot of doses, talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about ways to help you remember your medicines. You and your health care provider may even decide to change your treatment regimen to fit your health care needs and life situation, which may change over time.
Do You Have to Take Your HIV Medication If Your Viral Load Is Undetectable?
Yes, antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces your viral load, ideally to an undetectable level. If your viral load goes down after starting ART, then the treatment is working, and you should continue to take your medicine as prescribed. If you keep an undetectable viral load, you can stay healthy and have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex.
[Note from TheBody: This article was originally published by HIV.gov on Jan. 9, 2019.]