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- What does AIDS stand for? What causes AIDS?
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- How is AIDS diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for HIV/AIDS?
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- What are the complications of HIV?
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- Is there a vaccine for HIV?
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Quick GuideHIV AIDS Facts: Symptoms and Treatments
What is the treatment for HIV/AIDS?
Medications that fight HIV are called antiretroviral medications. Different antiretroviral medications target the virus in different ways. When used in combination with each other, they are very effective at suppressing the virus. It is important to note that there is no cure for HIV. ART only suppresses reproduction of the virus and stops or delays the disease from progressing to AIDS. Most guidelines currently recommend that all HIV-infected people who are willing to take medications should have them initiated shortly after being diagnosed with the infection. This delays or prevents disease progression, improves overall health of an infected person, and makes it less likely that they will transmit the virus to their partners.
There are currently six major classes of antiretroviral medications: (1) nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), (2) non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), (3) protease inhibitors (PIs), (4) fusion (entry) inhibitors, (5) integrase inhibitors, and (6) CCR5 antagonists. These drugs are used in different combinations according to the needs of the patient and depending on whether the virus has become resistant to a specific drug or class of drugs. Treatment regimens usually consist of three to four medications at the same time. Combination treatment is essential because using only one class of medication by itself allows the virus to become resistant to the medication. There are now available pills that contain multiple drugs in a single pill, making it possible for many people to be treated with a single pill per day.
Before starting ART, blood tests usually are done to make sure the virus is not already resistant to the chosen medications. These resistance tests may be repeated if it appears the drug regimen is not working or stops working. Patients are taught the importance of taking all of their medications as directed and are told what side effects to watch for. Noncompliance with medications is the most common cause of treatment failure and can cause the virus to develop resistance to the medication. Because successful therapy often depends on taking several pills, it is important for the patient to understand that this is an "all or nothing" regimen. If the person cannot tolerate one of the pills, then he or she should call their physician, ideally prior to stopping any medication. Taking just one or two of the recommended medications is strongly discouraged because it allows the virus to mutate and become resistant. It is best to inform the HIV health care provider immediately about any problems so that a better-tolerated combination can be prescribed.