Meet the Meds

Part of HIV Medications: When to Start and What to Take

Now that you've thought about the class or classes of HIV medications you should start with, it's time to choose specific medications. Besides considering all the things we've mentioned, there's another important factor: How often will you need to take the pills?

Research has shown that it's relatively easy for most people to take pills once or twice every day without missing doses. More than that, and most people slip up. You may even decide that once a day is easier than twice a day. The upcoming chart mentions which drugs can be taken once-daily and which are twice-daily. Please note that we have included some options that are commonly used by doctors although they may not yet be in any guidelines.

Forgetful? Here Are Some Tips

  • Some people find it helpful to use a small notebook to keep track of each time they take their medications.
  • Others use a pillbox that they pre-fill at the beginning of each week or buy a watch with an alarm.
  • Still others keep all their medications in one place, like near a toothbrush or in the kitchen, so they can remember to take them as a part of their daily routine.
  • It also helps to fill your prescriptions consistently at one pharmacy. This way you can refill everything at once and not run out of certain medications. Mail-order pharmacies can offer a three-month supply and confidentiality that you may not get at your local pharmacy. If you are worried about timely refills, keep a week's supply as a backup.

Why Do HIV Drugs Have so Many Different Names?

Each HIV drug you read about here has several different names. Emtriva, for instance, is sometimes called FTC or emtricitabine. Why so many names for one drug? Here's the deal:

  • Generic name: A drug name in all lowercase letters (like "emtricitabine" or "nevirapine") is the generic name—the official scientific name of the drug.
  • Brand name: In order to patent an HIV drug, drug companies need to make a unique, "branded" version of a generic drug and give it a new name. The brand name, which always starts with a capital letter, is typically seen in ads, so it's usually the most recognizable.
  • Abbreviation: Using an abbreviation can make talking or writing about a drug easier. Sometimes, abbreviations are based on a drug's generic name (like "ddI" for didanosine). Others are based on some of the key chemicals that make up the drug; that's the case for AZT and FTC. Some abbreviations (like AZT) are so catchy that they become better known than the brand name.
  • Combination Drugs: To make it easier to take HIV meds, some drug companies have created "fixed-dose combination" pills that contain more than one HIV medication in them. This may be convenient, but it can also make talking (or reading) about HIV meds harder, because it's not always easy to tell whether someone is talking about a fixed-dose combination or the individual meds that go into that combination. Usually, though, fixed-dose combinations are known by their brand names: Atripla (Sustiva plus Emtriva plus Viread), Combivir (a combo of Epivir plus Retrovir), Epzicom (Epivir plus Ziagen), Trizivir (Epivir plus Retrovir plus Ziagen) and Truvada (Emtriva plus Viread).