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How Do HIV Medications Work?

HIV Medications at Amida Care in NYC

Medicines to treat HIV are more effective than ever and have fewer side effects. The sooner you begin treatment, the less HIV can damage your body and your immune system, and the less likely you are to pass HIV to someone else. Consistent adherence to treatment means you can lower the amount of HIV in your blood to become undetectable, which protects your own health and prevents HIV from being passed from you to others.

HIV Medications

Different people react to medicines in different ways, so a treatment regimen will be customized for you to limit potential side effects and drug interactions.

You will need to take a combination of HIV medicines, called antiretroviral therapy (ART), every day. Many newer treatments require you to take only one pill a day. These medicines can’t cure HIV, but they can help you live a longer, healthier life, plus they reduce the risk of HIV transmission to others. HIV is a virus. The term “viral load” refers to the amount of HIV in a person’s blood. The number one job of ART is to reduce your viral load to an undetectable level. This occurs when the level of HIV in the blood is too low to be detected by a blood test.

It is important to take these three steps for the best outcome:

  1. Start the antiretroviral therapy as soon as possible after your diagnosis. You must be prepared to take HIV medicines every day for the rest of your life. Tell your doctor or nurse about any issues that could interfere with taking your medicines every day. For instance, this might include a lack of money, housing issues, drug or alcohol dependency, transportation obstacles that make it difficult to visit the doctor regularly, etc.
  2. Follow your doctor’s recommendations exactly as prescribed. If you don’t, the treatment could fail.
  3. It may take a few weeks or months to get your dosage just right, so be sure to tell your health care providers if you are experiencing any type of issue, as they may need to adjust your medications.

How Do the Medicines Work?

You and your health care providers will regularly measure and monitor your CD4 count. The CD4 count is a snapshot of how well your immune system is protecting your body. CD4 cells (also known as CD4+ T cells) are white blood cells that fight infection. The more you have, the better. A normal range for CD4 cells is about 500-1,500.

HIV destroys CD4 cells. This damages the immune system and makes it hard for the body to fight off infections and certain HIV-related conditions. If the HIV infection progresses, the number of these cells declines. When the CD4 count drops below 200 due to advanced HIV disease, a person is diagnosed with AIDS.

However, ART can prevent HIV from destroying your CD4 cells. These medicines also can reduce the amount of HIV in the body by preventing the virus from multiplying (making copies of itself). Having less HIV in the body gives the immune system a chance to recover and fight off infections.

Once effective ART is started, it usually takes three to six months to reach an undetectable level viral load. Having an undetectable viral load doesn’t mean your HIV is cured. But people who become undetectable are more likely to live longer, healthier lives and are much less likely to transmit the HIV virus to others.

For More Information

Amida Care is here to help. Please contact us at 1-855-GO-AMIDA to find out more about how our Medicaid health plan assists people living with HIV/AIDS or to be directed to more health resources.

Check out Positively Aware’s HIV Drug Guide.

Over 60,000 New Yorkers are living with HIV and are living undetectable. Join Housing Works’ Live Undetectable team.

Learn more from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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