Don’t worry, you have choices when it comes to HIV medications.
Finding out you have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) can be one of the most difficult moments in your life. Many questions may start to pop up during your discussion with your doctor. One of the first ones will most likely involve asking about available treatment options. The good news is that there is a wide range of HIV medications today, and your doctor can tailor your treatment regimen to your needs.
First, you should know that you’re not alone. More than one million individuals live with HIV, and over 35,000 people receive an HIV diagnosis each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thanks to today’s HIV medications, these individuals can now live long and relatively normal lives.
So how do you know which treatment option is right for you?
Available Treatment for HIV
There are now so many varieties of effective HIV medications that if one doesn’t work for you, your doctor can most likely find another that does. You’ll know a medication is “working” for you if it helps you control your viral load, but also if it works with your lifestyle and doesn’t cause unwanted side effects.
HIV medications fall under the category of antiretroviral therapy. These medicines help prevent HIV from replicating in the blood. As a result, your viral load will stay low, meaning you will be able to control the amount of HIV in your bloodstream.
There are several subclasses of antiretroviral therapy, including:
- Nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI)
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI)
- Protease inhibitor (PI)
- Fusion inhibitor
- Chemokine coreceptor antagonist (consisting of 2 subclasses: CCR5 antagonist and CXCR4 antagonist)
- Integrase inhibitor
Your doctor may start your treatment regimen using combination antiretroviral therapy. This is when you combine different subclasses of antiretroviral therapy in order to treat HIV in different ways. That doesn’t mean you’ll have to take several pills: Different types can be combined into one single daily pill.
How Antiretroviral Therapy Works
Basically, each of these classes of HIV medications target the virus in a different place. Some of them gravitate towards the virus when it tries to enter the cell, while others break up HIV’s ability to replicate its genes.
The logic behind combination antiretroviral therapy is that HIV is a strong and smart virus. When you use one type of medicine against it, it may be able to learn the medicine you’re using. To survive, the virus may mutate, which basically makes it resistant to that medication over time. Combination antiretroviral therapy actually helps prevent this by attacking HIV in a variety of different ways at once.
Factors for Choosing HIV Medications
Doctors take into account several important details of a patient before deciding which medicines to use. This can include:
- Pregnancy: There are certain subclasses a physician can’t give you if you’re pregnant.
- Chronic conditions: The treatment you take for another condition could interfere with certain HIV medications.
- Reactions to certain medications: Some individuals can experience side effects when taking particular medications. They may have a better experience with a different type.
- Cost: There are instances when a person can’t afford their treatment. In these cases, your doctor can find a low-cost option you can use for the long term.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with HIV, it is important to seek out treatment. Without treatment, it can be life-threatening. Talk to a doctor if you have questions about your options and what long-term care will look like.
Stella A. Safo, MD, is an HIV primary care physician and assistant professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.
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