Your Guide to HIV Treatment

Adherence is key!

Nowadays HIV treatments can be very simple: Many people need to take just one pill a day to keep their virus under control. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the reality that HIV treatment is a lifelong commitment that requires taking medication every day, exactly as prescribed. This is called adherence.

Your treatment will only work if you take it each and every day. Sticking to your pill-taking schedule is important because these drugs leave the body quickly and you need to have a certain amount of HIV medication in your blood to keep the virus suppressed. If you miss taking too many pills and develop resistance to these drugs, they will no longer be able to control your HIV. While there are other combinations that might work for you, it’s best to keep your current treatment working for as long as possible.

“All my patients know my pill-taking mantra: “If you take this, it will work, and it will probably work forever. So let’s work together to get you (or keep you) taking your antiretrovirals every single day. Text reminders, apps, alarms, stickie notes, whatever it takes.” I tell people that most of us have bigger commitments than taking a pill once a day and going for regular checkups. With effective treatment and ongoing care, HIV can be very manageable.”

—Dr. Lisa Barrett
Infectious diseases specialist

Your doctor and pharmacist should be able to help you adhere to your pill-taking schedule, so be sure to discuss this with them.

Here are some tips you might find useful:

  • Take your medication at the same time(s) each day.
  • Set the alarm on your cell phone or watch to remind you to take your pills. This can be especially useful when you are travelling. Or carry a small medication “beeper” (talk to your pharmacist about getting one). There are also many apps out there that can remind you it’s pill time.
  • Keep your medications near your bed, in a kitchen cupboard you open frequently or somewhere you are likely to see them and remember to take them.
  • Keep a small supply of medications in places you frequently visit—at your family’s or partner’s house, and possibly at your workplace.
  • If you’re taking a trip, plan ahead. Pack the number of pills you’ll need for the time you will be away plus a few extra doses in case your plans change. When flying, always take your pills and your prescription carry-on. Do not pack them in your checked luggage. If your luggage were to get lost, you’d be without your meds.
  • Use plastic pill boxes (“dosettes”) for storing a week’s worth of your pills. Some pharmacies will package your pills in blister packs according to your daily dosing schedule.
  • Make sure you don’t run out of your medications.
  • Talk to other people living with HIV and learn from their experiences.
  • Develop a network of people who can support you and help remind you to take your medications.

If you are having trouble taking your drugs as prescribed, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Maybe you’re feeling down and depressed, maybe you travel a lot, maybe your life isn’t so stable these days or you use substances, or maybe it is not safe to keep your pills out in the open in your home… These things can all affect your adherence. Or maybe you just find it hard to remember your meds every day! You are not the only one. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist and to people at your local HIV organization to figure out how they can support you.

Adherence can be challenging! Missing an occasional dose is not the end of the world, so don’t panic. Do the best you can to get back on track: You’ll keep your drug combination working for as long as possible and do yourself the most good in the long run.