3 Options for HIV Treatment

May 7th 2016

HIV drugs have side effects such as nausea, heart disease, weakened bones and skin rash. Consult with your doctor on ways to mitigate side effects. Since HIV has no known cure, patients must take these pills for the rest of their lives. The side effects are secondary in importance to the fact that antiretroviral medications may save your life.

Antiretroviral Therapy

The most common way to treat HIV in the United States includes taking one or more antiretroviral drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More than 30 of these have been approved by the FDA to combat HIV, and additional ones may be available in other countries. Antiretroviral drugs help control HIV, may prevent AIDS-related illnesses, and could reduce the chances of transmitting HIV to other people. They come in five different classes, and standard therapy includes taking three of them from two of the classes.

Drug Classes

Scientists, doctors and pharmacists classify these drugs according to how they work to stop HIV from replicating within the body. Your doctor may prescribe two or more of these depending on what treatment options work best for your condition.

Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors, colloquially called "nukes," block the production of viral DNA to prevent HIV from replicating itself. Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors work directly on an enzyme to keeps the DNA from reproducing. Protease inhibitors prevent long DNA strands from breaking into smaller segments, which are necessary for HIV cells to replicate because the long chains are too complex. Entry/fusion inhibitors keep HIV from infecting your immune cells. Specifically, this class of drugs prevents HIV from latching onto CD4 cells. Lastly, integrase inhibitors block an enzyme that HIV needs to integrate its own genetic material into your healthy cells.

Combination Therapy

Combination therapy includes two or more classes of drugs combined into one fixed-dose pill. Taking three or more of these drugs at one time is called highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART. Doctors usually prescribe more than one class of drugs in order to prevent HIV from resisting a single therapy regimen. Combining classes of drugs into one pill helps reduce the amount of medication a patient has to take.

Everyone diagnosed with HIV should begin treatment as soon as possible. You should definitely begin therapy if you have severe symptoms, an opportunistic infection, a CD4 count lower than 350 or HIV-related kidney disease. If you are pregnant or are being treated for a hepatitis B infection, you should also start therapy as soon as possible.


Treatments for HIV have improved considerably since the discovery of the disease more than 30 years ago. Several medications help alleviate symptoms of HIV and keep a person's immune system healthy. Although there is currently no cure for HIV, scientists are testing a vaccine that may have preventive and therapeutic properties for HIV patients.

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