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Is It Time to Try a Single-Tablet Regimen for HIV?


Mamta Jain, MD

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This content is created or selected by the Healthgrades editorial team and is funded by an advertising sponsor. The content is subject to the Healthgrades medical review process for accuracy, balance and objectivity. The content is not edited or otherwise influenced by the advertisers appearing on this page except with the possible suggestion of the broad topic area. For more information, read the HealthGrades advertising policy.

Man taking pill

Treatment for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the last few decades is heralded as one of the great medical advancements of our time. Once considered a virtual death sentence, HIV patients can now expect to live a near-normal lifespan of approximately 70 years--if they adhere to their HIV treatment regimen. This can be quite challenging, though, since patients may have to take multiple pills throughout the day. That’s why the new single-tablet regimen--taking just one pill, once a day--is such an exciting advancement.

Treating HIV: We’ve Come a Long Way

In my career, I’ve watched the landscape of the HIV epidemic change radically, and I’ve seen the way we treat HIV patients change dramatically too. When I was in training, most people with HIV required multiple pills, called antiretroviral therapies, taken several times a day to keep the virus at bay. These drugs often had a lot of unpleasant side effects. For instance, we often had to add an antidiarrheal medication to the patient’s list of medications because we knew the regimen would cause diarrhea. These medications worked, but they weren’t easy to take because the regimens were so complicated.

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.

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.

Over time, these combination therapies became even more effective and simpler to take with fewer side effects. However, adhering to treatment plans was still a major issue for patients because they were still on complicated regimens that required taking multiple pills at different times of day. Medical professionals have learned, like with any chronic or infectious disease, being able to take just one pill once a day increases the likelihood that a patient will stick to his or her treatment plan. And in the early 2000s, combining multiple medications into a single tablet revolutionized the way we treat HIV. In many cases, the single pill drugs were more effective and less toxic, and patients were relieved of the burden of taking multiple pills in a day.

Compliance Is Crucial

While medication compliance is important for treating any condition, it’s absolutely crucial for treating HIV. The HIV virus replicates extremely quickly, can change form in the body, and can quickly become resistant to medications if they’re not taken consistently. In fact, even missing one day of virus-suppressing medication can cause the virus to become resistant to that particular treatment. If you become resistant to one treatment, there may be other drugs that work, but your treatment options will be very limited.

However, failed compliance isn’t always caused by forgetfulness. In fact, I’ve seen patients who are typically very good about following their multiple-pill treatment routine, but then their prescription refill lapses, so they take only two of the three pills needed to fight the virus. While this seems like the best course of action at the time--taking some instead of none--it’s actually more harmful than not taking any of the pills until the prescription is filled.

Because it makes taking medication easier, the one tablet regimen significantly reduces the risk of developing drug resistance and puts less of a burden on the patient. I’ve been amazed at the effectiveness of the new drugs developed to treat HIV and how easy it is to take them.

Switching to a Single Pill Drug Therapy: What to Know

There are several reasons you may want to switch to a single-tablet regimen. You may have been on a multiple pill treatment plan for your HIV for a long time and are doing just fine with your current routine. However, we’ve learned some older regimens for HIV treatment can cause long-term toxicity to the body that can lead to chronic health issues. Mild toxicity might result in rashes and moderate-to-severe toxicity side effects could include pancreatitis, a disease in which the pancreas becomes inflamed, and drug-induced hepatitis, a disease that infects the liver. If you’re concerned about these side effects, have a discussion with your physician to review other options.  

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.

Mamta Jain, MD

Mamta Jain, MD

Mamta Jain, MD, is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Texas Southwestern, where she serves as director of HIV research and is an associate professor of internal medicine. View her Healthgrades profile >

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© 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.

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