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.

See what the medical community has to say about Truvada »

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.

Learn more about NRTIs for HIV »

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

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.

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HIV: 5 Things to Ask Your Doctor About Treating HIV

Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or have been going through treatment for some time, maintaining a running dialogue with your doctor about HIV is important.

Here are five questions you should ask during your next appointment.

1. How do I know if my treatment is working?
Treating HIV is different than treating other health conditions. It can be difficult for you to measure whether your treatment is working. If your medications aren’t able to control the HIV virus or protect your immunity, then you likely need to try a new treatment option. Talk to your doctor about what specific factors are looked at when determining the effectiveness of a treatment plan.

2. What do my lab test results mean?
If you have HIV, you should expect to have various lab tests done on a recurring and periodic basis. These can include blood tests to monitor your treatment, antibody screenings to manage your health, and diagnostic tests (like CD4 counts and viral load) to check on your treatment’s effectiveness. Make sure you know the purpose of each test and what your results indicate.

3. How can I continue to stay healthy?
Unlike a common cold or stomach flu, HIV isn’t something that will go away on its own. But with today’s treatments, the average HIV-positive person is expected to live just as full a life as someone without HIV. Of course, this is only if you stay on top of your health. Ask your doctor about tips and lifestyle changes you can make to ensure you continue to live a long, productive, and happy life.

4. What should I know before taking my medications?
If you’re on antiretroviral or ART therapy, there are certain things you need to know before you take your first dose. Ask your doctor how each drug needs to be taken: Should it be taken in the morning or at night? Should it be taken with food or on an empty stomach? Also, be sure to ask about any potential side effects that you may experience, and any potential drug interactions with the other medications you’re taking.

5. When should I schedule my next appointment?
Your HIV appointments will soon become as routine as getting your car’s oil changed or your dog groomed. It may be tempting to brush aside an appointment from time to time, but resist that temptation. This is a chance for you to discuss your health goals, and to check in on the progress of your current treatment. It’s also a time for you to discuss any clinical trials or research studies that may be beneficial to you.

There you have it: Five questions to ask during your next HIV appointment. The more prepared you are for your appointment, the better off you –- and your health -- will be!

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:

  • Olysio
  • Victrelis
  • Viekira

Learn how protease inhibitors work to reduce the amount of HIV virus in your body »

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

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.

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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.

  • Selzentry

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.

  • Tybost

Immune-Based Therapies

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)

Outlook

The medications on this list are intended to help alleviate HIV symptoms. However, some may cause temporary side effects at first. These include:

  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • 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.