Antiretroviral Therapy and Medications to Help Fight HIV

Although there is no cure for HIV/AIDS today, there is antiretroviral therapy (ART).  ART has been proven effective in prolonging the lives of those infected with HIV if taken as prescribed.  ART therapy is a combination of antiretroviral (AR) drugs that work against HIV to slow its reproduction speed throughout the body.  After many years of research scientists have found it to be most effective if one or more AR drugs are taken at a given time, as the body may become resistant to drugs after a certain time period.

Today there are over twenty-five approved AR drugs to help treat HIV and many more in the works.  These drugs work to not only lower the amount of the virus within the body but also to help fight other infections that one may be exposed to and to improve one’s quality of life.  Have you ever heard of “combination therapy”?  Combination therapy is when you take more than one AR drug at a time.  There is also Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), which is when you take three or more AR drugs at a time.  HAART also helps decrease the rate of opportunistic infections (OIs).

Antiretroviral Therapy

Each and every day researchers and scientists are creating new drugs to help fight HIV/AIDS and prolong the lives of those infected.  Today there are five classes of AR drugs: protease inhibitors (PI), fusion inhibitors, entry inhibitors, integrase inhibitors, and reverse transcriptase (RT) inhibitors.  RT inhibitors have two types: non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs) and nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs).  Each of these classes perform a different function in the role of protecting the body against HIV.  These functions are as shown below:

Class Function
Protease Inhibitors Interfere with the protein protease, which HIV uses to create infectious viral particles of itself
Fusion Inhibitors Help block HIV from entering healthy non-infected CD4/T-cells
Entry Inhibitors Help block HIV from entering healthy non-infected CD4/T-cells
Integrase Inhibitors Block the insertion of viral DNA into host cell DNA by disabling the protein integrase
Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors Help block a vital step in the HIV life cycle
       NNRTIs Bind to the protein of RT to disable it, resulting in HIV not being able to copy itself
       NRTIs Stall the reproduction speed of HIV by forcing the virus to use “faulty” building blocks

When Should Treatment Start

As we all know HIV can be very serious and sometimes fatal if left untreated, so beginning proper treatment as soon as possible is crucial.  Guidelines suggest that treatments begin once your body’s CD4/T-cell count falls below 500 cells/mm3, you become pregnant, you are being treated for Hepatitis B, you suffer from severe symptoms, or you have kidney disease related to HIV.  Many people live without even knowing they are HIV positive, if you think that you may be infected please see your physician or visit a clinic where HIV tests are given.  The sooner treatment begins to better your chances are at prolonging your life and becoming the new healthy you.

Some Tips to Remember

When taking HIV/AIDS drugs it is very important to follow the EXACT rules and guidelines you are given by your physician.  Even if you miss just one dose you could potentially develop resistant strains of HIV which may make your AR drugs no longer effective.  To reduce certain side effects of AR drugs talk to your physician or even your local pharmacist to see whether your AR drugs should be taken on a full or empty stomach.  Also, make sure to inform your physician and pharmacist of any additional dietary supplements you may be taking as some may interact with your HIV/AIDS AR drugs making them ineffective.

Remember, taking AR drugs is a lifestyle change that will need to be made in order to successfully fight HIV and improve your quality of life.  Once starting ART you will forever be on ART, so being able to integrate this therapy into your life through a life style change is in fact very important.  Your physician will be more than willing to help you in any and all ways possible.  There are also HIV support groups that can help you adjust to the new lifestyle and be a support team through your journey.  You should not be in any way embarrassed if you are HIV positive, but if you are nervous about being around strangers or prefer to stay anonymous, there are also many wonderful HIV/AIDS support groups and chat rooms online free of charge.

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