HIV Treatment

Following an HIV Treatment Regimen: Steps to Take Before and After Starting HIV Medicines

Last Reviewed: August 4, 2021

Key Points

  • An essential part of effective HIV treatment is medication adherence. Medication adherence means sticking to an HIV treatment regimen—taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed.
  • Before starting an HIV treatment regimen, tell your health care provider if you have any issues that might make it hard for you to follow an HIV treatment regimen. For example, people who have difficulty swallowing pills or people who do not have health insurance may find it hard to stick to an HIV treatment regimen.
  • After starting an HIV treatment regimen, medication aids, such as pill boxes, apps, and medication diaries, can help to maintain long-term medication adherence.

The benefits of good adherence include sustained viral suppression, reduced risk of drug resistance, better overall health, improved quality of life, and decreased risk of HIV transmission.

Before starting an HIV treatment regimen, talk to your health care provider about medication adherence.

Talking with your health care provider will help you understand why you are starting HIV treatment and why medication adherence is important. Medication adherence means sticking to an HIV treatment regimen—taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed.

Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is recommended for everyone with HIV. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. Adherence to an HIV treatment regimen reduces the risk of drug resistance and HIV transmission.

What should you tell your health care provider before starting an HIV treatment regimen?

Tell your health care provider about other prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Other medicines or products you take may interact with HIV medicines. A drug interaction may affect how an HIV medicine works or cause side effects. To learn more, read the HIVinfo What is a Drug Interaction? fact sheet.

Tell your health care provider about any issues that might make adherence difficult. For example, people who have difficulty swallowing pills or people who do not have health insurance may find it hard to stick to an HIV treatment regimen.

Describe your daily schedule to your health care provider. You and your health care provider can work together to design an HIV medication schedule that fits in with your day-to-day routine.

Ask your health care provider for written instructions on how to follow your HIV treatment regimen. The instructions should include the following details:

  • How much of each medicine to take
  • When to take each medicine
  • How to take each medicine (for example, with or without food)

Use a variety of strategies to stick to your HIV treatment regimen.

To maintain adherence, try some of the following strategies:

  • Use a 7-day pill box. Once a week, fill the pill box with your HIV medicines for the entire week.
  • Take your HIV medicines at the same time every day.
  • Set an alarm on your cell phone to remind you to take your medicines. You can also download the Clinical Info mobile application to bookmark your HIV medicines, make notes, and set daily pill reminders.
  • Ask a family member or friend to remind you to take your medicines.
  • Plan and prepare for changes in your daily routine, including weekends and holidays. If you are going away, pack enough medicine to last the entire trip.
  • Use an app or an online or paper medicine diary to record each medicine as you take it. Reviewing your diary will help you identify the times that you are most likely to forget to take your medicines.
  • Keep all your medical appointments. Be sure to refill your prescriptions before you run out of HIV medicines.

What should you do if you forget to take your HIV medicines?

Unless your health care provider tells you otherwise, take the medicine you missed as soon as you realize you skipped it. But if it is almost time for the next dose, do not take the missed dose; just take your next dose at the usual time. Do not take a double dose of a medicine to make up for a missed dose.

Discuss medication adherence at each appointment with your health care provider.

Tell your health care provider if you are having difficulty following your treatment regimen. Do not forget to mention any side effects you are having. Side effects from HIV medicines (or from other medicines that you are taking) can interfere with medication adherence.

Let your health care provider know if your treatment regimen is too complicated to follow. Your health care provider may recommend that you switch to a simpler HIV treatment regimen.

This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

From the Department of Health and Human Services:

From the Health Resources and Services Administration:

From HIV.gov:

From the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

Also see the HIV Source collection of HIV links and resources.