What Are Some Tips to Help Me Take My HIV Medicine as Prescribed?
Whether you’re newly diagnosed with HIV or have had HIV for some time, you may be seeking tips and tools to help you keep up with your HIV medicine.
HIV treatment involves taking highly effective medicines called antiretroviral therapy (ART) that work to control the amount of HIV virus in your blood (viral load). ART is recommended for everyone with HIV, and people with HIV should start ART as soon as possible after diagnosis, even on that same day.
People on ART take a combination of HIV medicines called an HIV treatment regimen. A person’s initial treatment regimen generally includes three HIV medicines from at least two different drug classes that must be taken every day. Many people with HIV take two or more different HIV medicines combined in one pill. There are many options of these combination medicines available. Long-acting injections of HIV medicine, given every two months, are also available if your health care provider determines that you meet certain requirements.
Here are some tips that may help you take every dose of your HIV medicine in pill form, every day:
- Follow your treatment plan exactly as your health care provider has prescribed. Depending on your treatment regimen, your provider will tell you whether your HIV medicine should be taken at specific times of the day, with or without certain kinds of food. If you have questions about when and how to take your HIV medicine, talk to your provider or pharmacist.
- Create a routine. Add taking your HIV medicine to things you already do each day. For example, if your medical provider prescribes taking your HIV medicine every morning with food, make it a habit to take it at breakfast.
- Try a weekly or monthly pill box with compartments for each day of the week to help you remember whether or not you took your medicine that day.
- Set an alarm on your clock, watch, or phone for the time you take your HIV medicine.
- Keep a daily log or use a calendar to keep track of the days you have taken your HIV medicine.
- Download an app from the Internet to your computer or on your smartphone that can help remind you when it’s time to take your HIV medicine. Search for “reminder apps,” and you will find many choices.
- Set up automatic refills at your pharmacy. Your HIV medicine will be ready when you need it, and you won’t run out.
- Ask a family member or friend to encourage you and give you a daily phone call, text, or email to remind to take your HIV medicine. This can be especially helpful while you are getting into the habit of taking your HIV medicines or adjusting to a new regimen.
- Reward yourself with small incentives for taking all of your pills for that week or month.
- Continue to see your health care provider regularly. Regular medical visits are important to monitor the amount of virus in your blood to make sure it stays undetectable, and to receive other medical support. Use these visits to talk openly to your provider about any help you might need sticking to your treatment plan.
What Are Some Challenges I Might Face Taking My HIV Medicine Every Day?
Taking HIV medicine every day can be difficult. That’s why it is important to understand some of the challenges you may face and to think through how you might address them before they happen. For example, remembering when to take your HIV medicine can be complicated. Some regimens involve taking several pills every day—with or without food—or before or after other medicines. Making a schedule of when and how to take your medicines can be helpful. Or talk to your health care provider about whether a combination pill might be right for you.
Other factors can make it difficult to take your HIV medicines every day, including:
- Problems taking medicines, such as trouble swallowing pills, can make staying on treatment challenging. Your health care provider can offer tips and ideas for addressing these problems.
- Side effects from medicines, for example, nausea or diarrhea, can make a person not want to take them. Talk to your health care provider. There are medicines or other support, like nutritional counseling to make sure you are getting important nutrients, which can help with the most common side effects. But don’t give up. Work with your health care provider to find a treatment that works for you.
- A busy schedule. Work or travel away from home can make it easy to forget to take pills. Planning ahead can help. Or, it may be possible to keep extra HIV medicines at work or in your car for the times that you forget to take them at home; make sure you talk to your health care provider about your medicines—some are affected by extreme temperatures such as if in a vehicle and it is not always possible to keep medicines at work.
- Being sick or depressed. How you feel mentally and physically can affect your willingness to stick to your HIV medicines. Again, your health care provider is an important source of information to get the mental health services and support you may need.
- Alcohol or drug use. If substance use is interfering with your ability to take your medicine regularly or otherwise keep yourself healthy, it may be time to seek help to quit or better manage it.
- Treatment fatigue. Sometimes people get tired of taking their HIV medicines for a while. Every time you see your health care provider, make it a point to talk about staying adherent to your HIV medicines.
- Stigma. HIV-related stigma causes some people miss doses, for fear that others might learn their HIV status and reject them. Support groups and online communities of other people with HIV can often be useful if you are feeling vulnerable.
- Affordability. Some people have trouble affording their HIV medicines. Many HIV clinics have care managers and benefits counselors who can help you figure out what services and programs you may qualify for. There are also patient drug assistance programs that offer free or reduced-cost HIV medicines to low-income people living with HIV who are uninsured or underinsured. Learn about paying for HIV care and treatment.
Your health care provider will help you identify barriers to keeping up with your HIV treatment regimen and ways to address those barriers. Understanding issues that can make keeping up with your HIV treatment regimen difficult will help you and your health care provider select the best treatment for you.
Tell your health care provider right away if you’re having trouble taking your HIV medicine every day. Together you can identify the reasons why you’re skipping medicines and make a plan to address those reasons. Joining a peer support group of others taking HIV medicine, or enlisting the support of family and friends, can also help you.
Exploring Long-Acting HIV Treatment
A long-acting injectable HIV treatment option is available for people who have an undetectable viral load. It is given every other month or monthly by a health care provider as two injections, after you take about a month of once-daily starter pills. Your every other month regimen begins after two consecutive months of injections. It’s important to attend all appointments. If you think it might be a good option for you, talk to your health care provider. If your doctor prescribes long-acting injectable treatment, you’ll receive your injectable HIV treatment around the same day every other month. To help your viral load stay undetectable, it’s important to keep your appointments and stick to your HIV treatment plan.