HIV treatment

While there is no cure for HIV, treatment aims to manage HIV so you can live with it and enjoy a good quality of life

HIV treatment works by reducing the amount of the virus in your blood so it is no longer detectable. This allows your immune system to repair itself and prevent further damage.

Key things to know

There are many different anti-HIV drugs and your HIV treatment will include a combination of drugs that work best for you.
  • Normally, you will start by taking 1 to 4 pills a day.
  • The aim of the HIV treatment is to reduce the amount of HIV (known as viral load) in your blood, so it can no longer be detected. This is called an undetectable viral load.
  • Once you have an undetectable viral load, HIV can’t be passed on to other people through sex.

HIV treatment can be confusing and you might need some time to understand how it works and what it involves before you feel ready to start. We are here to support you and answer any questions you may have.

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How does HIV treatment work? 

HIV attacks the white blood cells in your immune system and uses them to multiply (make copies of itself). HIV treatment works by preventing HIV from multiplying and damaging white blood cells. When the amount of HIV in your body is reduced, your white blood cells recover and your immune system is able to function normally again.

According to the HIV treatment guidelines by British HIV Association (BHIVA), it is advised that you start your HIV treatment as soon as you are diagnosed. There are many benefits of starting HIV treatment early. However, before starting treatment, it is important that you understand how it works, what it involves and that you feel ready to start. You can find more information about starting HIV treatment on the charity NAM’s website.


Types of HIV treatment

Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) refers to a combination of different anti-HIV drugs. The type of anti-HIV drugs your doctors recommend will depend on how long you’ve had HIV, your viral load and your health. Normally, it consists of two or three different types of pills.

Single-tablet regimen refers to the HIV treatment that combines different types of pills into one fixed-dose pill. This means that instead of taking several pills, you only need to take one pill a day. This type of treatment might be offered to people who have difficulty sticking to their treatment or taking multiple pills.

Injectable HIV treatment is medication that can be injected by the doctor instead of you taking pills every day. One advantage of injectable HIV treatment is that it only needs to be given once every two months. However, there are specific eligibility criteria for this type of treatment. Read our service user’s experience of injectable treatment.

You can learn more about recommended treatments for HIV in UK on NAM’s website. You can also find more information on injectable HIV treatment on the British HIV Association (BHIVA) website.

If you finding it hard to navigate the information around treatment, you can get in touch with us for advice and support.


Side effects of HIV treatment

As with any treatment, HIV treatment can have side effects. At the start, you might experience the following side effects:

  • diarrhoea,
  • feeling sick,
  • feeling tired,
  • headache,
  • rash.

These side effects are usually mild and should go away after a few weeks. It is important not to stop taking your medication. If you do experience any side effects for a prolonged time or they get worse, it is best to talk to your doctor.


How will I know if my treatment is working?

The amount of HIV (known as viral load) will be measured in your blood at the start of your treatment. This helps to determine the best combination of anti-HIV drugs for you.

When you start treatment, the viral load will slowly start falling. Regular blood tests will show how well the treatment is working for you and whether your viral load has fallen to undetectable levels.


Looking for support?

If you are living with HIV and need support understanding a new diagnosis, treatment or navigating life with HIV, we are here to help. Get in touch with us by filling out our contact form.

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