Your Guide to HIV Treatment

How to tell if your treatment is working

“I’ve had a few blips over the years but when we’ve done a followup I’ve been undetectable again every time. When there’s a blip, I get concerned but I don’t worry that we won’t be able to manage it. I feel like everything is easier to manage now when it comes to my HIV. My focus now is on living longer and growing older with HIV and all of the issues that come along with that.”

—Murray

“Being undetectable gives me hope for more options in the future. It means keeping infections at bay. It lets me focus on things other than the fact that I’m a host to HIV.”

—Tracy

“When I was diagnosed, I had a low CD4 count and a high viral load. It didn’t take long before my CD4s were in the high 1,200s and in six months my viral load was undetectable. Besides having to remember to take one pill a day, my life is virtually unaffected by the disease. I’ve been fortunate enough to fall in love with someone who is negative and our relationship is just fine.”

—Jon

HIV treatment should bring down your viral load to an undetectable level and it should increase your CD4 count.

Your viral load should become undetectable and it should stay there. For most people, it takes three to six months, though for some people it takes less time and for others it can take longer. Some people see occasional blips in their viral load. A “blip” is when your viral load becomes detectable at a very low level on one test and then becomes undetectable again on the next test. A single blip is not cause for alarm, but two detectable measurements in a row may be a sign that your treatment is no longer working. Certainly it is a signal that you and your doctor should talk about why this might be happening.

If your CD4 count had already dropped when you were diagnosed with HIV, it will probably take more time for your CD4 counts to rise than it takes for your viral load to drop. Once HIV is successfully suppressed, your immune system should rally and your CD4s increase.

Your healthcare team can help make your pill-taking schedule manageable, and if you experience side effects, they should be able to help you deal with them.

Many people who felt ill as a result of HIV begin to feel better after starting treatment. And their health improves. People on treatment often feel more confident about their health, their sex lives and as people living with HIV.