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Reasons to Start Treatment

Who Should Start Treatment?

Just because you are HIV-positive does not mean you must take HIV medications (also known as antiretrovirals). Whether—or when—you start HIV treatment and which type of treatment you will need depends on many factors, including your CD4 count and viral load.

Ultimately, you and your healthcare provider will have to decide what’s right for you, but HIV/AIDS experts recommend that you start treatment for your HIV disease if any of the following applies to you:

  • You are experiencing severe symptoms of HIV disease.
  • You have an opportunistic infection.
  • Your CD4 count is 350 cells/mm3 or less.
  • You are pregnant.
  • You have HIV-related kidney disease.

Once you do begin treatment, it’s important to continue regular visits with your healthcare provider—and to follow the directions for the medications you are taking very carefully. If you don’t take your HIV medications EXACTLY as directed, you could develop drug resistance, which could make your HIV meds stop working.

Starting Treatment Means Changing Your Life

Treatment for your HIV disease is most likely to be successful when you know what to expect and are committed to following the plan that you and your healthcare provider work out together.

For many people, starting treatment for their HIV disease means they have to make significant changes in the way they live. It’s important for you to know what you’re getting into before you start.

Some of the life changes you will need to make are related to the way your HIV meds work. For instance, some medications may require you to eat at certain times of the day. Some HIV medications have to be taken more than once a day at specific times—and taking them with food may make them more or less effective.

If you have other health problems in addition to HIV, and you take drugs for those conditions, you may have to learn to take your medications at different times of the day or change them all together. That’s because some meds can change the way your body processes the other medications when you take them together. They can make some medications ineffective or increase the amount of medication in your body.

You should discuss all of these issues, and any concerns you have, with your healthcare provider BEFORE you begin treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any programs that can help pay for my HIV treatment?

Most treatment assistance is administered by local and state entities. The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is the major source of Federal funding for local healthcare programs which provide assistance to individuals at the state or local level. To find out more information about Ryan White services in your area, see the Health Resources and Services Administration’s The HIV/AIDS Programs: Find HIV/AIDS Care.

How will I know if my HIV treatment regimen is working?

In general, your viral load is the most important indicator of how well your regimen is working. Your viral load should decrease if your HIV medications are effective. Your healthcare provider will also check to see whether your CD4 count is stable or improving, and will look at your overall health through physical examinations.

For more information, visit AIDSinfo’s Is My Treatment Regimen Working?

What will happen if I don’t take my HIV medication every day?

You could develop drug resistance—meaning that HIV meds will no longer work to keep your virus under control. This could lead to a gradual increase in your viral load and eventually be damaging to your immune system. You would then be vulnerable to opportunistic infections and could develop AIDS. That’s why “treatment adherence,” or taking your meds on time, every time, is important. For more information on treatment adherence, visit AIDSinfo’s What is Treatment Adherence?

Additional Resources

Last revised: 02/09/2012