A Practical Guide to HIV Drug Treatment for People Living with HIV


3. Treating HIV

In this section, we tackle the why, when and how of HIV treatment. Along with questions like “When should I start?” we also suggest some ways you can prepare for HIV treatment.

  • 3.1 There’s More to Health than ART: Holistic Health
    • There is far more to living a healthy life with HIV than simply taking antiretroviral drugs. Being healthy means being healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually.
    • Simply eating well and getting enough exercise and sleep can make a great difference to your health and well-being. So can maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking.
    • There are many other ways you may be able to better your health and quality of life.
  • 3.2 Working with Your Doctor
    • Your doctor is your most important healthcare provider, but there are many other people who can help you, from nurses to pharmacists to counsellors.
    • Do your best to find a doctor who has experience in caring for people with HIV.
    • Good communication is essential for a good relationship with your doctor. We suggest a few tips and tricks that may help.
  • 3.3 HIV Treatment
    • Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for HIV infection. However, HIV treatment can significantly reduce HIV’s ability to make copies of itself and dramatically slow HIV disease, allowing the immune system to recover.
    • HIV treatment usually consists of a combination of three or more antiretroviral medications.
    • Guidelines for the best use of antiretroviral medications have been developed by experts and are constantly being updated based on the latest evidence.
    • Guidelines are not rules. Your doctor may recommend a combination of anti-HIV drugs that are not listed as “preferred” treatment in guidelines.
  • 3.4 When to Start

    This section is under revision.


  • 3.5 Preparing to Start Treatment
    • Starting treatment can cause some people to feel anxious.
    • Before you take your first dose, you may want to think through some practical issues as well as your feelings and attitudes about treatment.
    • We've included some helpful tools you can use to help you prepare.
  • 3.6 Choosing a Drug Combination
    • An effective combination of antiretroviral drugs keeps a person’s viral load undetectable, is easy to take and has few side effects and long-term toxicities.
    • Out of the large number of possible drug combinations, a few are preferred as first-time combinations.
    • Personal circumstances (such as pregnancy, CD4 count or cardiovascular disease) may narrow your options.
    • If you have several good options to choose from, your choice may then depend on comparing the potential side effects of the medications, the number of pills you would have to take, and how often you would have to take them.
  • 3.7 Resources