Although there is no cure for HIV, medication is now so good that people living with HIV can expect a normal, healthy life and can become untransmittable, meaning that HIV really does end with them.
What is antiretroviral therapy?
Antiretroviral therapy, or ART, is a powerful combination of drugs that people living with HIV take to stop the HIV virus replicating in their bodies and to suppress the virus in the body. ART is so efficient that if adhered to properly the HIV virus can become undetectable in the body meaning that that person is noninfectious.
When should you start taking HIV meds?
You should start taking ARTs as soon after diagnosis as possible. It is especially important to start taking ARTs quickly if you are pregnant, if you have any AIDS-related illnesses or if you have any co-infections such as Hep B or C.
Are there any risks to taking HIV meds?
The risks associated with taking HIV medication are far outweighed by the benefits of taking HIV medication but there can be some side effects.
Some people can experience side-effects to medications such as headaches, nausea, or even throat swelling. It is important to speak to a professional about such side effects. There are also some associated risks with taking HIV medication intermittently. It can mean that the HIV virus becomes resistant to the drugs. So, although we recommend taking medication as soon as you can, if you are worried about adherence it may be worth delaying until you are in a place to adhere to medication regularly.
There can be interactions with HIV meds and other medication or recreational drugs. This app from Liverpool University can help you manage any drug interactions, including interactions from recreational and party drugs http://www.hiv-druginteractions.org/.
How does antiretroviral therapy work?
There is a lot of science behind antiretroviral therapy that we will not go into here! In basic form, antiretroviral therapy stops the HIV virus replicating and so reduces – and ultimately totally suppresses – the amount of HIV in the body. It does this at several points in the HIV life cycle and is really, really good at doing it’s job.
So, HIV meds, that all sounds quite easy?
For some people it’s easy, for others it’s hard. There are many, many factors that could make it easier or harder for someone to take medication. For example, some people need to take their medication with food but may not have enough money to eat; some people may need to take their medication at the same time everyday but work irregular shift patterns; everyone needs to keep their medication somewhere, but what if you’re homesless? It is easiest to adhere to medication when living in stable accommodation, with enough money to support yourself.