Here is some important information for patients who are being treated with antiretrovirals:

Ask Questions

After a course of antiretroviral combination therapy has been prescribed and before leaving the physician's office, the patient must be sure to understand the following:

  • How and when to take the medications (e.g., with or without food, at what times)
  • What to do if side effects occur
  • How to contact your physician or other health care provider
  • What to expect from the drugs

Stay Under a Physician's Care

There is no cure for AIDS. People who are infected with HIV/AIDS require lifelong care and treatment. It is essential that patients who are taking antiretrovirals remain under the care of a doctor or other health care provider who specializes in the care of people who have HIV/AIDS.

Communication between the patient and doctor about any problems, concerns, or changes, can help improve the complicated decision-making process that antiretroviral therapy requires. It is especially important to communicate the following information:

  • Discuss any side effects with the doctor, as some side effects can be serious and even life-threatening.
  • Be honest about all drug use, both legal and illegal, as drugs often interact with each other in harmful ways.

Take all medications on time, in the proper doses, and with or without food or liquid as required. By taking all medications as instructed, patients can help prevent the virus from replicating, slow down the process of resistance, and keep the drugs working for longer periods of time.

If patients do not take medications as instructed, there is a greater risk for HIV to develop resistance, leading to more rapid disease progression and decreasing the effectiveness of the drugs.

Adhere to Dosing Schedules

First of all, it is important for patients to know as much as possible about a certain combination of drugs before agreeing to take it. In addition, the patient should be sure that the required schedule is one that he or she can stick to.

Once beginning a drug regimen, patients should set up reminders to be sure to take the drugs on schedule. Some patients keep their medicines in a certain place, such on top of the coffee maker or next to their toothbrush. Others use an alarm clock or a beeper. Ask a physician, other health care workers, and other people who have HIV/AIDS for additional suggestions. It is important to take medications as directed 100 percent of the time.

What Happens if I Miss a Dose of My Medication?

If you do miss your medications, you should take them as soon as you remember. If you do not remember them until it is time for your next dose, you may have to take a double dose. However, do not get in the habit of doubling up. Even though it is better than not taking the dose at all, doubling up can increase side effects and is not as effective in destroying HIV.

One common reason for missing doses is that the medication is not available at the pharmacy. In some cases, your physician may need to call in a prescription to another pharmacy in the area. Even if your insurance will not cover the medication at the other pharmacy, it is better to buy a few pills to get you by than to miss your medications. To avoid the hassle, try to remember to call in your refills a few days ahead of time.

Many HIV specialists keep antiretroviral medications in the office. If you run out and cannot get them from a pharmacy, ask your health care provider if they have any in the office.

Many people do not take enough medication with them when they travel. Always make sure to take enough medication for the trip, plus a little extra in case your plans change and you are away longer than expected. It is probably a good idea to bring twice as much medication as you will need. Also, bring an extra pill container so you do not have to carry all of your pills, all of the time.

Another common reason for missing doses is that patients often do not really believe it is necessary to take all the pills all of the time. Many patients believe that one or two missed doses a month do not matter. This is simply not true: the virus will start to reproduce, mutate, and develop resistance.

If I Run Out of Some Medications, Should I Just Take What I Have?

No! Do not take part of the combination. Antiretroviral therapy must be taken in proper combinations. Taking only one or two of the medications allows the virus to become resistant. It is better to miss a dose than to take part of the combination. If you cannot take the whole combination, wait until you can and take it as soon as possible.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 30 Nov 2000

Last Modified: 23 Jul 2015