Preparing to Start HIV/AIDS Treatment

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

Once your doctor recommends that you begin treatment, it's important to consider how treatment will change your life. Are you ready in every way -- mentally as well as physically? Remember: Each missed dose of an HIV medication may increase the risk that your meds will lose their ability to keep your HIV under control. This means you have to be certain that taking your medications will become a central part of your daily life.

No doubt this commitment will be challenging. However, you have a good chance of keeping HIV under control with the first combination of medications that works for you. If this combination successfully suppresses the virus, and if you take each and every pill prescribed, you may not have to change medications for a long time.

What if you aren't always able to take all your medications on time? This may cause your first combination of medications to fail. If this happens, it can get harder and harder to keep HIV under control with each successive drug combination. So it's crucial to identify a combination you can stick to, before you start treatment.

Here are some things to consider:

  • HIV treatment is a commitment; be ready for it.
    One thing is certain: Taking medications daily will change your life. Suddenly, you'll have new responsibilities. You'll always have to be aware of the time, your schedule and changes in your routine. In some cases you may have to schedule taking your HIV medicine around meals or take it with or without certain foods. You'll have to remember to take your pills with you if you are going out at night or away for the weekend. Even if you are depressed or busy, you will still have to take your medications exactly as prescribed every single day. So, before you start, you must ask yourself: "Am I really ready?"
  • Plan how you will deal with side effects if they occur.
    All medications can have side effects -- even aspirin. Not everyone experiences side effects from HIV medications, which can range from mild to severe. Because you really want to give this first combination your best shot, talk to your doctor and read about the possible side effects of the medications you are thinking of taking. This can help you not only plan how to manage side effects if they arise, but to choose medications whose possible side effects you think you can manage.
  • Your surroundings and your mental health are important.
    If you are feeling depressed, using recreational drugs or living on a friend's couch, it may be unrealistic to assume you'll be able to take all your medications all the time. So make sure you have organized your life before you begin treatment. This way it will be easier for you to follow a strict treatment plan. It's also a good idea to get some support. It helps immensely to have friends, family or a therapist you can rely on while you are on a treatment regimen -- especially at the beginning when you are still adjusting. Check out the HIV/AIDS service organizations near you for support groups.

To find an HIV/AIDS service organization online, visit our search tool at

Details, Details: More Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing Treatment
Are You Ready for Treatment?
  • Anything that could interfere with taking all your pills on time. Travel? The timing of meals?
  • Your support system. Can you count on your friends? Family? Therapist? Support group?
  • Sequencing of HIV medications. Ask your doctor what options you'll still have if your first combination stops working.
  • Strength of HIV medications. Which medications are right for you given your T-cell count and viral load?
  • How long the drug has been around. What is known about short- and long-term side effects?
  • Side effects. Are some side effects more tolerable to you than others? How will you manage them if they arise?
  • Drug interactions. Certain HIV meds don't always get along with other drugs. Will yours work with other meds you're taking?