Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs are pills used to control HIV. Adherence to your HIV treatment means taking your ARV pills correctly, at the right time and the right dose (amount), as your healthcare provider told you to do. Taking your pills at the wrong time, either too early or too late, or missing doses altogether could make them less effective (less powerful to help you) and they may even stop working for you.
Adherence also means not taking other pills or treatments that could cause a bad reaction (mix) with your ARVs. Using alcohol or other drugs can make you forget to take your HIV treatment. Many herbal treatments and other kinds of therapy have not been tested and should be avoided if you take ARVs. Talk to your healthcare provider about taking other treatments or substances with your ARVs.
Missing a dose of ARVs is a bad idea. You should be at least 95% adherent (taking your pills correctly, at the right time) for your treatment to work fully. This means you can only afford to make one mistake every month!
Dealing With ARV Side Effects
When you first start treatment for HIV, you may have some side effects. These side effects usually go away after a brief adjustment period, which can last anywhere from a few days to a month. If you notice any unusual or severe reactions after starting or changing an ARV, report the side effects to your healthcare provider immediately.
Dealing with side effects can be a barrier to starting and continuing HIV treatment. Don’t let these side effects take over your treatment plan. It is never a good idea to stop treatment without first consulting your healthcare provider, as this may cause drug resistance.
Many of the newer medications for HIV have fewer side effects. If side effects are a problem, you can take measures to reduce or cope with them. If this isn’t enough, you may be able to change your treatment regimen to reduce the side effects. You should talk to your healthcare provider about all treatment options and the potential side effects of each one.
Before You Begin ARV Treatment
Discuss your medical history with your healthcare provider before you begin treatment. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about any supplements or drugs you’re taking, including those that are:
- Over the counter
- Alternative therapies
Ask your healthcare provider about potential side effects of ARV treatment so you know what to expect. It’s also important to know that side effects can be caused by something other than HIV medications. These include:
- Pre-existing conditions
- Other drugs
Short Term Side Effects
Almost all medicines have side effects, including ARVs. While your ARVs are controlling the virus in your body, they may also cause:
- Anemia (abnormality in red blood cells)
- Fatigue / tiredness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain and nerve problems
Tips To Help You Stay Adherent
- If you are going out or will be away from home for a time, take your pills with you so that you don’t have to worry about missing your treatment.
- Visit your clinic before you run out of your pills so that you can keep taking your treatment.
- Use whatever you can to remind you to take your treatment. Set an alarm on your cell phone, or take your pills when the news comes up on TV or take the pills every night when you brush your teeth. Ask others to remind you to take your ARV treatment.
It Can Be A Challenge To Be Adherent
- Your healthcare provider will discuss your treatment and adherence with you. Ask questions if you need more information. If it is difficult for you to take your treatment every day go back and talk to your healthcare provider again so that they can help you. Never just stop taking your pills.
- Side-effects of the treatment can be unpleasant but they usually go away as your body gets used to the treatment. Never allow side-effects to stop you taking the pills correctly; discuss the side-effects with your healthcare provider. If you have just started treatment, be patient; you will soon be feeling better.
- You might feel depressed about having to take ARV treatment because it reminds you that you are HIV positive. Remember that without the treatment you will become very ill and you could even die. ARVs are not your enemy – they are making it possible for you to lead a long and full life.
- You should not have to hide the fact that you are taking ARVs from people you live with. Hiding your pills or taking them in secret is not ideal. People you live with should understand why it is important that you take your pills correctly.
- If you are late in taking your pills take them as soon as you remember! The next day continue taking them at the usual time. Ask yourself why you forgot, and take steps so that this doesn’t happen again.
- Go for all your blood tests so that you can see for yourself how your ARV treatment is helping you.