What are Antiretroviral drugs? These medications are prescribed to people living with HIV/AIDS in order to prevent the virus from replicating and ultimately causing the immune system to weaken and lead to death. There are currently over 40 antiretroviral drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the market, each with its own strengths and weaknesses depending on an individual’s circumstances and treatment history.
How Do Antiretroviral Medications Work?
Antiretroviral medications are taken by HIV-positive people who want to live longer, healthier lives. When these medications were first introduced in 1996, they were hailed as a miracle cure for AIDS. While antiretrovirals do not cure HIV or AIDS, they do keep it under control and prevent it from developing into a full-blown disease. There are several different types of antiretroviral drugs, which work in different ways to fight HIV.
Who Can Take ARVs?
ARVs aren’t prescribed for healthy people; they’re designed specifically for those infected with HIV. People who are diagnosed with HIV but who don’t yet exhibit symptoms can take ARVs to help stop transmission of the virus before it spreads. To be eligible for treatment, you must have a minimum CD4 count (which indicates how well your immune system is working), and you must have been infected within six months of taking ARVs.
When Should I Start Taking ARVs?
Take antiretrovirals as soon as possible after a positive HIV diagnosis. The drugs are most effective if taken within a few hours of exposure and even after that early window, you can still greatly reduce transmission risk by taking ARVs before any noticeable infection symptoms appear. Even if you’ve already been exposed, it’s worth considering treatment with ARVs; so if you think you might have HIV or have been exposed to HIV, talk to your doctor about starting treatment immediately.
What Happens If I Take ARVs Too Early Or Too Late?
Taking antiretrovirals too early—before a person’s immune system has been badly damaged by HIV—can cause side effects like flu-like symptoms, nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Taking them too late can allow HIV to take hold in vital organs, which can prove fatal. That’s why it’s so important that patients start their ARV regimen as soon as possible after diagnosis; every day counts when it comes to preventing further damage and improving long-term outcomes.
The Challenges of Taking ARVs Daily
While it’s necessary to take your HIV medication, doing so can present several challenges. Not only does it interrupt your daily routine and lifestyle, but also have to remember if you’ve taken your pills is taxing. While nothing is perfect, there are a number of ways that you can ensure you stay on track with taking your meds as prescribed.
Special Concerns With Pregnant Women On ARVs
Women on ARVs during pregnancy are at an increased risk of anemia, premature delivery, low birth weight, and potentially HIV infection in newborns. Because of these risks, pregnant women who are on ARVs should seek specialized obstetric care. Because certain ARV drugs can harm developing fetuses, pregnant women may need different or larger doses of medications than usual. Women should not breastfeed while on ARVs without first consulting a doctor; some drugs in these regimens pass into breast milk and could be harmful to children.
Common Mistakes In Taking ARVs
There are several mistakes that people make when it comes to taking antiretroviral drugs. These mistakes can easily be avoided and greatly improve your quality of life. Here are some things you can do
Two Things To Keep In Mind While Taking ARVs
ARVs are generally quite safe for most people, but it’s important to take them as directed and stay on your drug regimen. The biggest side effects from ARVs have been mild nausea and diarrhea in some cases. For those taking a tenofovir-based drug, be sure to use a non-microwaveable container when heating up water or other drinks—microwaves will damage these containers!