HIV infection begins when the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is transmitted via contact with infected body fluids such as blood or semen. HIV targets the immune system, invading T helper cells. These are the white blood cells that fight infection. First, the virus attaches to the cell, injecting its genetic blueprint — contained on viral RNA wrapped in protein shells — into the cell. Viral RNA uses an enzyme, reverse transcriptase, to make viral DNA. The DNA enters the T cell’s nucleus, hijacking the cell’s replication machinery so that it can make copies of the virus.
There’s currently no cure for HIV. However, medications can help. These medications stop HIV from replicating, so you can better manage the condition and have an improved quality of life. Your doctor will help determine the best medications, depending on the extent and severity of the infection. It’s important to know that medications don’t prevent the spread of HIV to others.
If you have questions about your medications, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.
Multi-Class Combination Drugs
These medications combine drugs from different groups into one complete regimen. If your doctor prescribes you one of these medications, you take one tablet per day. Side effects and doses can vary by individual. You and your doctor can decide whether one of these drug combinations is right for you.
Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs)
Both NRTIs and NNRTIs interrupt the life cycle of an HIV-infected cell as it tries to replicate itself. Also called “nukes,” NRTIs inhibit the reverse transcriptase, which is an enzyme HIV uses to convert RNA to DNA. Inhibiting the reverse transcriptase prevents HIV from replicating in the body.
- Entecavir: This drug is FDA approved to treat hepatitis C, but it’s sometimes used to treat HIV as well by doctors experienced in treating HIV. This special use of the drug is called “off label.”
- Videx EC
Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs)
Both NRTIs and NNRTIs interrupt the life cycle of an HIV-infected cell as it tries to replicate itself. They do this by inhibiting the reverse transcriptase, which is an enzyme HIV uses to convert RNA to DNA. Inhibiting the reverse transcriptase prevents HIV from replicating in the body.
Protease inhibitors selectively bind to protease, a protein that HIV needs in order to replicate in the body. When protease is unable to do its job, the virus cannot complete the process of generating new copies that can infect more cells.
Protease inhibitors, which are FDA approved to treat hepatitis C, are sometimes used to treat hepatitis C in HIV patients. This special use of these drugs is called “off label.” Doctors who are experienced at treating HIV and hepatitis may choose to prescribe these drugs for those who have HIV. These drugs include:
Entry Inhibitors (Including Fusion Inhibitors)
Entry inhibitors are a class of HIV medication that work by blocking the entry of the virus into a host T cell. This prevents the virus from replicating itself. These drugs also prevent the destruction of targeted cells, which preserves immune system function. However, the virus may eventually develop resistance to individual drugs.
- Fuzeon (comes in the form of a shot)
Integrase inhibitors are a class of medication designed to inhibit the action of integrase, a viral enzyme that HIV uses to infect CD4+ T cells.
Chemokine Coreceptor Antagonists (CCR5 Antagonists)
CCR5 antagonists prevent the spread of HIV by blocking infection in the chemokine coreceptor. This is just one of two molecules found on the surface of each body cell. For this reason, CCR5 antagonists are likely prescribed with another form of HIV medication.
Cytochrome P4503A (CYP3A) Inhibitors
CYP3A is an enzyme that protects liver and gastrointestinal health. HIV can destroy this enzyme, leading to problems within these areas of the body. CYP3A inhibitors offer protection for these enzymes. Due to the effects on the liver, jaundice may occur when using these drugs.
Because HIV affects the immune system, researchers are studying ways that HIV medications can help boost immunity. Certain immune-based therapies have been used successfully in some patients.
- Plaquenil (a drug commonly used in autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and RA)
The medications on this list are intended to help alleviate HIV symptoms. However, some may cause temporary side effects at first. These include:
- muscle aches
- nausea or vomiting
According to AIDSInfo, you may experience side effects for up to several weeks after starting a new medication. If these worsen or persist after this time, it’s worth discussing with a doctor.
Remember that prescription medications can help keep HIV at bay while also improving your symptoms. None of the drugs on this list can cure HIV. Transmission to others is still possible, too. Talk to your doctor about all of your options to determine the best medications for you.