The most common treatment for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are medications. HIV drugs have the ability to slow the progress of your disease and delay the onset of acquired immune deficiency syndrome AIDS. These medications are called antiretroviral drugs (ARV). If you take three or more drugs it's referred to as highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART). If you've just started taking them, here are 10 important things to keep in mind:

1. HIV drugs have several benefits.

They medications keep your immune system healthy and reduces the damage HIV causes to your immune system. In essence, HIV drugs help you live longer. To avoid resistance, your doctor will prescribe more than one drug for you to take. There are five classes of antiretroviral drugs:

  • Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
  • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
  • Protease inhibitors (PIs)
  • Fusion or entry inhibitors
  • Integrase inhibitors

Each class performs a different function to reduce the efficiency of HIV in your body. These processes include preventing the virus from entering cells and inhibiting it from replicating,

2. HIV drugs have serious side effects.

Adverse reactions to HIV treatment are common. However, many become less frequent or virulent over time. Each drug causes different side effects, which include:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea,
  • hyperglycemia (increase of fats in the blood)
  • liver damage
  • low blood sugar
  • nausea
  • osteonecrosis (bone death),
  • osteoporosis
  • skin rashes
  • vomiting
  • weakness or fatigue

Ask your doctor about the side effects of the drugs he prescribes for you and for tips on how to cope.

3. Don't skip a dose of HIV drugs

Because of the side effects of ARVs, and stigma associated with taking these drugs, some people are tempted to skip a dose occasionally. You shouldn't. When you miss a dose of HIV the viral load in your body becomes greater and your CD4 count (immune system cells) drops. So you become more prone to infection and other HIV-related complications.

Also, you may develop resistance to the drug and require a new drug, which will have its own side effects you need to get used to. If you're having a surgery, going on vacation, or you're ill, speak to your doctor to find out how you should adjust your HIV drug schedule.

4. Some HIV medications interact with other drugs and herbs.

HIV drugs may interact with prescription medications, such as some antipsychotic, migraine or heart medications. But, taking them with some over-the-counter drugs and herbs - such as some antihistamines, St. John's Wort and gingko biloba, may also pose problems.

Make sure your doctor has a full list of the drugs and herbs you may be taking to reduce the likelihood of any complications. Also, get your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy to further reduce the risk of interactions with your HIV drugs.

5. Don't abuse drugs or alcohol.

This can prevent you from remembering to take your HIV drugs on schedule, which will set back your treatment. If you have a substance abuse problem, let your health care provider know so that they can prescribe the best course of treatment for you.

6. Find out how to take the drugs.

Some HIV drugs need to be taken with food, others should be taken on an empty stomach. Also, some need to be taken at the same time such as; others, on their own. To keep track, create a chart for yourself that you can keep handy in your pocket until taking them becomes routine.

7. Become familiar with the look of the drugs.

Accidents and mistakes can happen at the pharmacy. Get familiar with the look and size of your HIV drugs when you first start taking them. If they look different from what you're used to, have the pharmacy double check.

8. HIV drugs and pregnancy

It's essential for you to take HIV medications when you're pregnant to protect your health - and your baby's. Your doctor can prescribe the most appropriate course of HIV treatment. Also, once your baby is born, you shouldn't breastfeed, since HIV can be pass through breastmilk.

9. People may find out you are taking HIV drugs.

You may be reluctant to let anyone know that you have HIV, however, it's possible they may find out you're taking HIV drugs. For some people, this can cause anxiety and fear. Think ahead about how you'll handle this situation should it arise, and know your rights.

10. HIV drugs increase rate of heart attacks.

Certain HIV medications interfere with platelet activity in the blood. Platelets help the blood to clot, but they may also cause clots in your arteries that can lead to heart attacks. Ask your doctor how you can reduce your risk of heart attack when taking HIV drugs.