You've Started Treatment: What Now?

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

You and your doctor have reviewed all your options and you've made the big decision. Maybe your first few weeks on treatment were rough because of some initial side effects. Maybe it's been a cinch. What should you expect in the future? Your viral load should drop around 90 percent within eight weeks of beginning treatment and by six months it should ideally drop down to below 50 copies/mL ("undetectable"). Your T-cell count should go up, not down.

Remember that side effects are always possible and that the medications work differently for everyone. Tell your doctor about any symptoms you experience -- even things that seem minor, like stomach problems, diarrhea, rash or weight loss. It's important you report these problems because they may be a sign that the medications aren't working properly in your body.

Generally, your doctor will check your viral load and T-cell count and do a general blood test three to eight weeks after you've begun therapy. If within three months of beginning treatment your viral load or T-cell count doesn't change much, your doctor may suggest that you make a switch. If all is going fine, you'll visit your doctor every three months and repeat these tests to make sure your treatment is still working.

The Ultimate Decision Is Yours

HIV treatment has become complicated, and it's difficult for even an expert to decide which combination of treatment will be successful for you. We hope this booklet has helped you better figure out your options. Don't worry if it takes a while to understand. Keep your mind open, keep learning about HIV by visiting sites like The Body (, and don't be afraid to ask your doctor lots of questions.

HIV therapy is still changing and new treatments, dosages and drug combinations become available all the time.

Keep in mind that hundreds of thousands of people in the United States are living with HIV and taking HIV medications. Most lead full and productive lives. Work with your doctor, become a partner in your care and get the support you may need by talking to others with HIV.

Always remember: You are not alone! Reach out to the many resources around you! Online or offline, there are lots of places you can go to stay connected to others, learn more about treatment, and keep up with the latest news.

Remember the Goals of Treatment
  • Preserve and restore your immune system.
  • Maintain a viral load as low as possible -- usually meaning keeping it undetectable.
  • Minimize side effects and drug interactions, and avoid any permanent damage.
  • Prolong your life and maintain your quality of life.