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How HIV Medications Interact With Other Drugs

By

Scott Kim, MD

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Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) medications have come a long way in recent years in terms of improving quality of life and outcomes. However, the large number of drugs that need to be taken by those who are HIV-positive can still present some concerns, particularly in how they interact with other medications that a patient might need.

There are dozens of medications currently used to treat HIV infection, and they work by preventing the virus from functioning in different ways. Combinations of several drugs, called “cocktails,” are particularly effective because they disable the viral life cycle at multiple different stages, ensuring long-term suppression of the virus. While these medications are not currently able to completely remove the virus from all the cells of the body, they are able to prevent the virus from continuing to replicate, which results in very low levels of virus in the blood and bodily fluids. Long-term suppression of viral activity allows the body to maintain a healthy immune system and function normally.

Managing HIV goes beyond just taking your medications—you’ve also got to live a healthy life. These patients and physicians share how you can give your body what it needs to thrive with HIV.

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.

We expect most people living with HIV to do well on treatment and to live long and healthy lives totally free from the complications of HIV/AIDS. Still, interaction with other medications is possible so it's important to understand what can be done.

What You Should Know About Potential Medication Interactions

Many prescribed medications have interactions with foods and with other drugs, and HIV drugs are no exception.

Medication interactions can raise or lower the levels of drugs in the body and bloodstream. When these interactions cause higher levels of drugs, the risk of their associated side effects can also rise. When interactions cause lower levels of drugs, there's a risk that the medications will not have their desired therapeutic effect. Most drug interactions are not fatal or imminently dangerous, but they must be monitored nonetheless to make sure that unpleasant side effects are minimized while therapeutic effects are consistently maintained.

The majority of drug interactions involving HIV therapies are considered mild or moderate in nature. However, there are some drug interactions—for instance, with antacid medications used to treat reflux or gastritis—that can seriously affect the levels of HIV drugs in the bloodstream.

It’s important to know whether your HIV medication must be taken with food and whether it is safe to use antacid medicines with your HIV medication. If you are on other prescription medications, both your doctor and your pharmacist can help ensure that there are no drug interactions requiring alterations of your regimen.

How to Avoid Drug Interactions

HIV doctors and pharmacists frequently use technological systems and pharmaceutical references to alert them to potentially important drug interactions when they start patients on new medications or refill ongoing prescriptions. It's important for patients to maintain close communication with their doctors, particularly when their medications are changed or when their lifestyles—eating habits, for example—change dramatically.

In many cases, drug interactions do not necessitate discontinuation of any medications, but when modification of the regimen is necessary for safety reasons, there are usually excellent alternatives that doctors can recommend to avoid further interactions. It is extremely rare to we face clinical situations in which we must choose to leave one condition or another untreated due to drug interactions.

To stay aware of potential drug interactions, there are several things that patients themselves can do:



THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.


Scott Kim, MD

Scott Kim, MD, is medical director for HIV medicine at AltaMed Health Services in Southern California. He is board certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases. View his Healthgrades profile >

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© 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.

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