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How to Talk to Your Doctor About Changing HIV Treatment

By

Sarah Lewis, PharmD

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Today’s HIV treatment regimens are more effective than ever. In fact, it’s common for treatment regimens to lower viral load to undetectable levels for extended periods. For many people, this means HIV is more like a chronic disease.

Like other long-term conditions, a change in therapy may eventually be necessary. There are various reasons for needing to change your HIV treatment. In some cases, test results or drug interactions may prompt a change. But there are also times when your personal needs push you toward a different regimen. Don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor about trying something new if you’re experiencing any of the following issues:

HIV treatment is very different than it was in the past. Now, with the right treatment, people who are HIV-positive live long, healthy lives. HIV experts share their tips for treating your HIV.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 13, 2016

2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

Side Effects

Side effects can start to affect your quality of life or your ability to stick with your regimen. Don’t suffer through them in silence. Explain what’s going on to your doctor and find out if you can expect the problem to improve with time or not. Also, ask if there’s anything you can do to make the side effects more manageable.

Consider keeping a diary noting the timing and severity of the side effect. Describe any time you’ve missed a dose due to side effects. If there’s no solution to your problem, ask your doctor about new medicines and regimens that may have fewer side effects.

Missing Doses

You may find yourself struggling to stick with your regimen because it doesn’t work with your lifestyle or habits. If you start to miss doses, it’s important to contact your doctor as soon as possible. Skipping doses may allow your viral load to increase and gives the virus a chance to develop resistance. You can do more harm than good by trying to stick with it.

Ask your doctor about new regimens and combination drugs that may make your life easier. Explain your routine and habits, and try to pinpoint what it is about the regimen that doesn’t work with your lifestyle. Be honest about what you can commit to and what you can’t. Also, find out what tools—both digital and old-fashioned—can help you stay on track.

Selecting a New Regimen

The goal of any HIV treatment regimen is to keep viral load low (preferably undetectable), CD4 count high, and your quality of life good. But this isn’t the only thing you and your doctor need to consider when selecting a new regimen. Other factors include:

  • HIV drugs you’ve taken in the past—keep your own records of your previous HIV regimens

  • Drug resistance test results

  • Ease of fitting the new regimen into your lifestyle and habits

  • Past side effects with other regimens

  • Possible side effects with the new regimen

  • Other drugs you take

New Options

The ideal HIV treatment regimen consists of three fully active medicines. Today, there are six classes of HIV medicines, most with multiple drugs in the class. There are also ways to boost drugs with treatment enhancers. This gives you and your doctor more ways than ever to find a regimen that works for you.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 30, 2017

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Treatment Decisions for HIV. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.hiv.va.gov/patient/treat/decisions-single-page.asp
  2. Changing an HIV Treatment Regimen. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/contentfiles/changingmyhivtreatmentregimen_fs_en.pdf
  3. HIV Treatment Failure. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/contentfiles/hivtreatmentregimenfailure_fs_en.pdf
  4. HIV and Women: The Use of HIV Medicines During Pregnancy. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/education-materials/fact-sheets/24/72/the-use-of-hiv-medicines-during-pregn...
  5. HIV Treatment: HIV Medication Adherence. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/education-materials/fact-sheets/print/21/54/0/0
  6. Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents: Management of the Treatment-Experienced Patient. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/guidelines/html/1/adult-and-adolescent-arv-guidelines/15/virologic-failure-...
  7. Changing/Stopping Treatment. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/just-diagnosed-with-hiv-aids/treatment-options/changing-stoppin...

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