Antiretroviral therapy, or ART, is the standard treatment for people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It can’t cure HIV, but it can help keep you healthy for many years.
How does ART work?
By keeping the amount of virus low, ART helps:
- Your immune system stay stronger
- Your body fight infections
- Lower the risk of developing AIDS
- Lower the risk of spreading HIV to others
What are the benefits of taking ART?
ART provides many benefits, including:
- Keeping HIV infection from progressing to AIDS
- Protecting your immune system from becoming damaged and preserving its ability to fight infection
- Reducing your risk of passing the virus on to others
How is ART taken?
ART comes as a pill or as a shot (injection).
If your medication comes as pills, you may have to take several different pills every day. Sometimes the right medications for you can be combined into one pill. Talk to your doctor about which is best for you.
If your viral load stays low for at least three months, your doctor may order your ART as a shot. Your health care provider would give you one shot every month or every other month. It’s important that you keep your appointments and get your shot within seven days of your target date.
Do I have to take it every day?
It’s important to take your medication exactly as your doctor prescribes. Pills are usually taken every day at the same time. Shots are given every one or two months. Staying on track with your medications is important. If you don’t, the amount of virus in your body can go up. If you skip doses or don’t take your medications the right way, you might also develop a resistance to the medication. Resistance may make it harder to treat your HIV. If you have questions about how to take your medication, talk to your doctor or your CVS Specialty® CareTeam.
When should ART treatment be started?
The earlier ART is started the more effective it will be. It’s best to start ART as soon as possible after you learn you have HIV or think you may have been exposed to HIV. However, even if you think you may have been infected for a long time, you should still start ART.
Does ART have side effects?
There are possible side effects, but not everyone has them. Common side effects include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty sleeping
- Dry mouth
If side effects bother you, talk to your doctor or your CVS Specialty CareTeam. Your doctor may change your prescription to a different medication. There may also be ways to manage your side effects and get relief. Don’t stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor first.
What if I miss a dose?
If you miss a dose of your medication, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Most of the time, you can take your missed dose when you remember it and then continue with your next dose on schedule. If you have trouble remembering your medication, your CVS Specialty CareTeam can help you with ways to make it easier to stay on track.
If you have any questions about your ART, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. You can also contact your CVS Specialty CareTeam any time with questions or concerns.
CVS Specialty can help you stay on track and get the most from your HIV treatment plan. This includes managing side effects. Call us at 1-800-237-2767 to talk to a pharmacist or nurse specially trained in caring for HIV and sexual health.