Unfortunately, it is not possible to completely eliminate HIV. The goal of treatment for the virus is to prevent it from reproducing and causing further damage to the body. HIV thrives in the body by attacking CD4 cells, which help protect the body from disease.  Low levels of CD4 cells increases the risk for certain infections, so, to combat the virus, successful medications protect these cells.  There are several medications available for the treatment of the disease and many more currently under development.

The most widely-used treatment for HIV is highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), which utilizes five classes of HIV drugs to attack the disease at different levels of its progression. No drug can cure HIV, but taking several drugs from two different classes of medication can reduce symptoms. Taking various drugs has been proven to be the most successful at protecting one's immune system from the disease, controlling the amount of virus in one's body, and preventing resistance to an HIV drug.

The key to treating HIV successfully is to pick the right combination of drugs from the different classes of medications. These classes include:

  • nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
  • non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
  • protease inhibitors (PIs)
  • cell entry blockers
  • integrase inhibitor

Click here to learn more about the individual drugs to treat HIV.

While HAART treatment is the most effective at attacking the disease head-on, doctors will also prescribe other medications to ease more manageable physical symptoms of the disease, such as nausea, pain, and fatigue.

Prophylaxis

Prophylaxis is any measure taken to prevent disease before it occurs, rather than to treat or cure an existing condition.  In relation to HIV, prophylaxis is used to inhibit opportunistic infections, illnesses caused by a weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDS infection. Medications may be prescribed to prevent the development of a specific illness or infection. The three most common opportunistic infections include:

  • pneumonia
  • tuberculosis
  • toxoplasmosis

Other Medications

HIV/AIDS comes with numerous unavoidable side effects. You may be prescribed certain common medications and painkillers to prevent symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, pain, or depression.  If a patient experiences other health problems, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, these issues will have to be treated with medication in order to prevent further complications. 

The most successful way to cope with HIV is with a healthy body, so it is important that a person with HIV try to stay generally otherwise healthy by eating well, exercising, and participating fully in their healthcare with providers they trust.