What do the medications do anyway?
HIV medications can help you control your HIV by
- Lowering your viral load
- Raising your T-cell count – improving your immune system
Your goal is to have your HIV medications work as much as they can, for as long as they can. HIV medications do not cure HIV or help prevent passing HIV to others. But it can help you reach the goal of becoming undetectable. People living with HIV who take HIV medicine as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative sexual partners.
(Related post: Viral Suppression and Preventing HIV Transmission)
What do they mean by adherence?
Adherence is when you take your medications exactly as prescribed. Research has shown that HIV medications work better if you stay on schedule at least 95% of the time. For instance, if you take pills twice a day, 95% adherence means missing no more than one dose every 10 days.
Why do I have to take my medications at the same time every day?
When HIV medications are not taken exactly as prescribed, the virus can become resistant to the drugs, which means they stop working. If that happens, your doctor may need to prescribe a different combination of HIV medications. Eventually, you could run out of treatments that work for you.
Is there some way to make this easier?
If you have difficulty taking your medicines as prescribed, talk to your doctor about medicines that may fit better into your schedule. For instance, medicines taken at times that are convenient for you, or if you don’t eat on regular schedule, medicines that can be taken without food. Don’t be shy about talking with your healthcare provider or pharmacist. You can’t ask too many questions.
Many patients have found it helpful to do a practice run. Before you begin taking your medications, your doctor may recommend that you spend a week practicing your regimen, using candy like jellybeans or mints. If you can, try to take a few days off from work or school when you start a new HIV regimen. That way, you’ll have more time to focus on your regimen while you adjust to your new medications.
What about side effect?
All HIV medications have possible side effects, but there are things you and your healthcare provider can do to help deal with some of them. Do not stop taking your medications without consulting your healthcare provider.
Tell your doctor about all medicines you take, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbal supplements, because some of these can interfere with the effectiveness of certain HIV medications.
You are not alone in this.
Friends, family, or a support group can help you stick with your regimen by reminding you to take your medications or by just being there when you need them. The Project of PHC has Case Managers and Nurse Care Managers that can assist you.
Lots of HIV+ patients are successfully taking their medications as their doctor tells them. And so can you. It is difficult, but this is a challenge you can work to overcome. Your healthcare provider can help you find ways to stick with your medications.
Here are some tips to help you with your medication adherence:
- Try to take your medications during a regular daily activity, like watching a favorite TV show, brushing your teeth, or getting ready for bed.
- Set a time or alarm to go off when it’s time to take your medications.
- If you’re taking several different medications, a pill box can help keep them organized.
- Keep a journal of your medication regimen, so you can keep track of whether you’ve taken your pills for the day or not.
- Put your medications where you can;t miss them, like near the phone, by the coffee machine, or on your nightstand.
- Always carry an extra dose or two with you, just in case you’re away from home when it’s time for your medications.
- If you’re going away on vacation, don’t forget to bring your medications with you.
- If you’re flying, bring your medications in a carry-on bag in case your luggage is lost or your flight is delayed.
- Don’t wait until your prescriptions runs out to get a refill. Always refill your medications a week before they run out.
- Don’t go it alone. It’s always okay to ask for help.
Adapted from Sticking with Your HIV Medications: How am I gonna do it?.