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4 Benefits of Changing HIV Treatment


Dan Brubaker

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We don’t have a cure for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. But HIV is now considered a chronic disease, and people with the virus can live long, full lives. This has become a reality in large part because there isn’t just one drug for treating HIV. Over 30 drugs have received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And researchers continue to develop and refine new ones. These HIV drugs fall into five classes, each with its own way of preventing the virus from proliferating.

With a variety of treatment options available, you have some flexibility in switching from one therapy regimen to another. You can work with your doctor to find out which medications will best suit you, based on your current health status and your lifestyle. Here are four benefits that a treatment change can bring.

Thanks to years of research and discoveries, we know a lot more about HIV than we did decades ago. Keep yourself safe and healthy by knowing the facts about HIV.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Oct 23, 2015

1. Regain Control of Your HIV

The goal of treatment is to keep your HIV from replicating, suppressing your viral load—the amount of HIV in your body—to undetectable levels. If at some point your current treatment fails, your viral load will rise, weakening your immune system and increasing your ability to spread HIV.

The primary benefit of changing your treatment is you can regain control of your HIV. Think of your treatment as a password preventing HIV from hacking into your immune system. Over time, HIV may build resistance to your current treatment, breaching your security and threatening your health. But then—like changing a password—you can select a new regimen. On the new treatment, you can once again deny HIV access to the resources it needs to replicate itself.

2. Simplify Your Dosing Schedule

Once HIV patients start treatment they will likely need to take HIV medication every day for the rest of their lives. And adherence to HIV treatment has never been easy.

Regimen complexity sometimes prevents strict adherence. Dosing for complex regimens may involve injections or a handful of pills. You may need to take medication several times a day. And your dosing schedule might also dictate when and what you eat and drink. Whether due to regimen complexity or side effects, poor dosing adherence will eventually cause your treatment to fail. Your HIV will evolve resistance to drugs that you don’t take exactly as prescribed.

Are you having trouble sticking to a complex regimen? If so, you might benefit from switching to a regimen with a simpler dosing schedule. Evidence suggests that twice or once daily dosing often results in greater adherence.

3. Relieve Yourself of Current Side Effects

While on HIV treatment, you may experience side effects like nausea and fatigue. Worse yet, certain medications can have long-term toxic effects. They can increase your chances of heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis for example. Fortunately, research advances have resulted in safer treatment options. Switching over to a newer regimen may make your daily medications much more tolerable.

Here’s one more thing to keep in mind. It’s easy to see every symptom you’re having as a side effect of your treatment. But some symptoms you experience while on treatment may stem from your HIV infection itself.

4. Lower the Chances of Transmitting HIV to Your Baby During Delivery

It’s possible for newborns to contract HIV from their mothers during delivery. Some HIV regimens address this concern better than others. The right treatment can greatly reduce your chances of passing the virus on to your baby. So if you’re pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, you may also benefit from a change in treatment. Talk to your doctor about available options.

The benefits of changing your HIV treatment can dramatically improve your well-being. But you should always consult with your doctor before stopping or changing your medications. Your doctor will want to check your HIV treatment history and any drug-resistance test results. Together, you should also discuss your odds of experiencing side effects with each available option.

It’s also critical that you fully understand how to adhere to your new regimen. Some experts recommend giving the new dosing schedule a trial run. Before you switch regimens, try taking vitamins or jellybeans as if they were your new HIV drugs.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Oct 25, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Adverse Effects of Antiretroviral Agents. Adult and Adolescent ARV Guidelines. Guidelines. National Institutes of Health.
  2. Changing or Stopping Treatment. Treatment Options. Just Diagnosed with HIV AIDS. HIV/AIDS Basics. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  3. Chesney M. Adherence to HAART Regimens. AIDS Patient Care and STDs. 2003;17(4):169-177.
  4. Guidelines for Using Antiretroviral Agents Among HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents. Recommendations of the Panel on Clinical Practices for Treatment of HIV. Recommendations and Reports. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  5. HIV Medicines and Side Effects. Fact Sheets. Education Materials. National Institutes of Health.
  6. Lima VD et al. The Combined Effect of Modern Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy Regimens and Adherence on Mortality Over Time. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2009;50(5):529-536.
  7. Regimen Switching in the Setting of Virologic Suppression. Adult and Adolescent ARV Guidelines. Guidelines. National Institutes of Health.
  8. Treatments and drugs. HIV/AIDS. Mayo Clinic.

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