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Changing/Stopping Treatment

Changing Your Treatment Plan

At some point, you and your healthcare provider may decide to change your HIV treatment plan. Two of the most common reasons for doing that are drug toxicity and regimen failure. Drug toxicity means that your HIV medications cause side effects that make it difficult for you to continue taking them. Regimen failure means that the medications are not working well enough to control the HIV in your body. Regimen failure can result from poor overall health, poor treatment adherence, drug resistance, alcohol or substance use, or medical conditions or illnesses other than HIV infection.

If your healthcare provider wants to change your treatment plan, you should discuss the reasons for changing, and discuss:

  • HIV medications you have taken before
  • The HIV drug options that are open to you
  • The strength of the new medications your healthcare provider recommends
  • Possible side effects of the new medications
  • How well you will be able to adhere to the new regimen

Taking a Drug Holiday

You may reach a point where you feel you need a break or a "drug holiday" from your HIV medicine. Another term for “drug holiday” is structured treatment interruption.

There are a number of reasons why you might need or want to take a drug holiday. For example, you may be trying to control unpleasant side effects or dealing with undesirable reactions to your medications.

But skipping or stopping treatments can cause your medications to lose the ability to control your HIV and make you ill at the same time. You should never change your treatment plan without talking with your healthcare provider first.

For more information, see the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Treatment Decisions: Should you ever take a ‘holiday’ from the drugs?

A Study of Drug Holidays

The Strategy for Management of Antiretroviral Therapy (SMART) is a government-funded study that looked into the possible impact of drug holidays on HIV treatment. This study found that taking planned holidays from drugs was dangerous and resulted in higher risks of getting sick or dying and having more problems with medications.

For more information, see the National Library of Medicine's Clinical Alert on the SMART study.

Frequently Asked Questions

If your viral load becomes undetectable, can you stop treatment?

Having an undetectable viral load (meaning that the virus isn't showing up

on lab tests) is a sign that your HIV medications are working. Even though the virus is undetectable in your blood, it is still hidden in other parts of your body, such as your brain, reproductive organs, and lymph nodes. If you stop treatment, the virus will start reproducing again and your viral load will increase.

For more information, see the Department of Veterans Affairs Treatment Decisions: What if viral load is undetectable?

Last revised: 08/07/2009