Complera vs. Atripla: Comparing HIV Treatments

Medically reviewed by Alan Carter, PharmD on August 5, 2016Written by Stacey Feintuch on September 16, 2014


Complera and Atripla are both one-pill combination drugs that help manage HIV. The medications contain drugs that work in similar ways, but their differences, such as unique side effects, might be determining factors in choosing between the two. If either of these two drugs are options for you, take a look at this comparison to understand your treatment.

Complera vs. Atripla

Both Complera and Atripla work to prevent HIV from making copies of itself. This helps lower the amount of HIV in your body. Both of these drugs can also help increase your number of CD4 cells, which are also called T-cells. Your T-cells help you fight infection and disease. HIV attacks and kills your T-cells. Having too few T-cells makes it hard, if not impossible, for your body to fight and recover from infections and disease.

Complera and Atripla are both pills that combine three different drugs: two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) and one non-nucleoside transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI). NRTIs and NNRTIs both block HIV from using the enzyme reverse transcriptase to take over your T-cells to make copies of itself.

These medications both contain the NRTIs emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate. However, Complera uses the NNRTI rilpivirine, while Atripla uses the NNRTI efavirenz.


Would one of these drugs ever be a better option than the other?


Complera may be an option for you if you take Atripla and the side effects from efavirenz cause you too many problems.

Healthline Medical TeamAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Side by side comparisons

The table below compares features of these drugs.

What are the drug strengths in each pill?300 mg tenofovir disoproxil fumurate, 200 mg emtricitabine, 25 mg rilpivirine300 mg tenofovir disoproxil fumurate, 200 mg emtricitabine, 600 mg efavirenz
Who is it usually prescribed for?people 12 years or older who have never used an HIV drug, have a viral load* of less than 100,000 copies, or have taken another HIV drug and have a viral load of less than 50 copiespeople 12 years or older who have never used an HIV drug
Can it be used with other drugs?nocan be used on its own or with other HIV drugs
How often do I have to take it?once per dayonce per day
Do I take it with food or water?take with food take with water on an empty stomach
*A viral load is the number of copies of the HIV virus in 1 mL of blood.

Side effects

Both Complera and Atripla come with many possible side effects. Some are similar, and some are unique to each drug.

The shared side effects of both drugs include:

  • diarrhea
  • skin discoloration, such as small spots or freckles
  • nausea or vomiting
  • mild rash
  • hives, trouble breathing, or other symptoms of an allergic reaction
  • lipodystrophy, which is the redistribution of fat from areas like your face, arms, and legs to your abdomen and upper back

The side effects in the following table may occur in both Complera and Atripla but may be more common in one drug than the other.

More common in CompleraMore common in Atripla
dizzinessbone pain, softening, or thinning
headachenew or worsening kidney problems
sleeping troublepsychiatric problems, including delusions, paranoia, aggressive behavior, or thoughts of suicide
mood changes, including depressionsevere, blistering rash*
stomach pain or discomfort
unusual dreams
*If you experience a severe rash, call your doctor immediately.

Atripla and Complera can both cause lactic acidosis (lactic acid buildup in your blood) and liver problems. The symptoms of lactic acidosis are generally severe and come on quickly. They include:

  • breathing difficulties
  • stomach pain with vomiting and nausea
  • tiredness or weakness
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • irregular or fast heartbeat
  • abnormal muscle pain
  • feeling cold, especially in your legs and arms

Symptoms of liver problems include:

  • nausea
  • abdominal pain
  • pale bowel movements
  • jaundice (yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes)
  • appetite loss for a few days or more
  • dark urine
  • fatigue

Contact your doctor immediately if you have symptoms of lactic acidosis or liver problems.


Atripla and Complera can interact with other medications. However, more medications are likely to interact with Complera than with Atripla. For more information about these interactions, take a look at Healthline’s information on interactions with Complera and interactions with Atripla.

Also, if you’re taking Atripla and have hepatitis B, it’s important not to take the hepatitis B drug adefovir dipivoxil (Hepsera). Both drugs increase your risk of kidney problems.

How they stack up

Atripla and Complera are geared toward two different types of HIV patients. They both treat HIV infection in adults and children aged 12 years and older. However, Complera is only for these people who’ve also never taken an HIV medicine and who have less than 100,000 copies/mL of virus in their blood.

If you’re allergic to the ingredients of one medication, your doctor may recommend the other. You may also want to consider the side effects of each before making your decision. Talk to your doctor to help you determine which medication will be most effective and most appropriate for you.

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