Do You Need Antiretroviral Therapy for HIV with No Symptoms?

Last Editorial Review: 1/11/2018

Ask the experts

I am a 23 year old male and have been HIV+ for 2 years. I feel fine and still don't have any symptoms. Do I need to start antiretroviral therapy yet?

Doctor's response

Recommendations as to when antiretroviral therapy should be started are forever changing. Most recently, the guidelines have been modified to support delaying therapy in selected patients with high CD4 cell number and/or low viral loads. Details as to what the recommendations are and the rationale for the changes are outlined in my March 2001 Doctor's Column. In summary, the current guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services suggest therapy be considered for those individuals:

  • with symptoms of immunosuppression
  • without symptoms, if they have consistently less than 350 CD4 cells
  • without symptoms, if the CD4 cell count is greater than 350 with viral loads greater than 30,000 copies/ml using the bDNA method or 55,000 copies/ml using the PCR method

These are simply guidelines and must be individualized after detailed discussion with an experienced HIV-treating clinician. More important than any set of guidelines is the requirement that patients be fully committed to taking the treatment. Furthermore, patients need to work closely with their healthcare providers to minimize side-effects and optimize the consistent taking of the medications.

Thank you for your question.


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