Finding the Right HIV Treatment for You

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Beth W. Orenstein on June 6, 2021
  • smiling young adult male
    HIV treatment is a life-long commitment.
    Although treatment can’t cure HIV, finding the right combination of drugs can mean a long, healthier life. Just expect to take them every day for the rest of your life. Here’s what else you need to know.
  • Woman holding pill
    Antiretroviral drugs prevent HIV from multiplying.
    The FDA has approved more than 20 antiretroviral drugs that fall into six different classes: NTRIs, NNTRIs, fusion inhibitors, protease inhibitors, CCR5 antagonists, and integrase inhibitors. Each class of drug affects different enzymes and proteins that the virus needs to replicate.
  • Man talking to doctor
    Multiple-drug regimens are common.
    To combat HIV, your doctor will probably recommend that you start on a regimen of multiple anti-HIV drugs, or what’s called antiretroviral therapy. Most regimens consist of taking three or more anti-HIV drugs from at least two different drug classes. Your doctor might also prescribe a combination antiretroviral, which already has a fixed dose of drugs from different classes.
  • male-patient-at-doctors-appointment
    Explore your options.
    You and your doctor will consider several factors when selecting your HIV drug regimen, including the results of your drug-resistance testing, your T-cell count, and your "viral load" (the amount of virus in your system). Tell your doctor about other diseases or conditions you have, and all the medications you take (even herbs and over-the-counter meds), because some medications interfere with anti-HIV drugs.
  • Scientist testing
    Get drug-resistance testing.
    It’s possible to have a strain of HIV that’s resistant to one or more classes of the antiretroviral drugs available, a condition known as “transmitted HIV drug resistance.” That’s why, before choosing a treatment, you should be tested for drug resistance. If you were to take a drug you’re resistant to, not only would it fail to make you better, but it could also let HIV progress.
  • young guy reading thermometer
    Factor in possible side effects.
    Each anti-HIV medication can cause side effects. They vary from drug to drug and person to person, but common problems include fever, nausea, headache, fatigue, and rash. Though side effects may resolve with time, consider your tolerance level when discussing medication options with your doctor. You may need to try different drugs to find those with the least side effects for you.
  • weekly pill box
    Make therapy convenient.
    Some anti-HIV medicines require you to swallow three or four pills throughout the day, while others require just one pill taken once a day. The timing of a regimen may influence which one you and your doctor choose—and which you’ll be more likely to stick with.
  • Mixed race woman eating salad
    Know the proper way to take anti-HIV drugs.
    You need to take some anti-HIV drugs on an empty stomach, while you’ll better tolerate others if you take them with food. When deciding on the right treatment for you, consider your usual mealtimes and the times you’ll need to take the drugs. Your typical routine may lend itself better to certain anti-HIV drugs. On the other hand, you might need to adjust your daily schedule to accommodate the best treatment. Learn about storage requirements, too, when choosing your therapy. Some drugs, such as the older version of ritonavir, must be kept refrigerated.
  • Doctor and Patient
    Be flexible.
    Once you start treatment, you’ll get tested regularly to see whether the drug combination you’re on is working. Your viral load will rise if the drugs are not working. You may need to switch treatments if the therapy isn’t working well enough or stops working after a while. Starting with a strong combination of drugs can help you avoid developing a resistance to them.
Finding the Right HIV Treatment for You

About The Author

  1. FDA-Approved Anti-HIV Medications. National Institutes of Health.
  2. Drugs That Fight HIV. National Institutes of Health.
  3. When to start anti-HIV medications, AIDS Info, NIH.
  4. HIV/AIDS, Drugs and side effects.
  5. Starting HIV Treatment. (
  6. HIV/AIDS. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. National Institutes of Health.
  7. Starting HIV Treatment. Uptodate.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jun 6
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.