Taking HIV treatment requires effort and commitment as drugs must be taken at exact times each day. Some people may experience serious side-effects or may not respond to certain drugs. Treatment, care and support can help people to adhere to treatment and address any problems they may have with their treatment regimen.
This is the main type of treatment for HIV or AIDS. It is not a cure, but it can stop people from becoming ill for many years. The treatment consists of drugs that have to be taken every day for the rest of a person’s life.
The aim of antiretroviral treatment is to keep the amount of HIV in the body at a low level. This stops any weakening of the immune system and allows it to recover from any damage that HIV might have caused already.
The drugs are often referred to as: antiretrovirals, ARVs, anti-HIV or anti-AIDS drugs. Taking two or more antiretroviral drugs at a time is called combination therapy. Taking a combination of three or more anti-HIV drugs is sometimes referred to as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART).
If only one drug was taken, HIV would quickly become resistant to it and the drug would stop working. Taking two or more antivirals at the same time vastly reduces the rate at which resistance would develop, making treatment more effective in the long term. Our starting, monitoring and switching HIV treatment page has more about drug resistance.
Most people who are infected with HIV experience a short, flu-like illness that occurs two to six weeks after infection. After this, HIV often causes no symptoms for several years. The flu-like illness that often occurs a few weeks after HIV infection is also known as seroconversion illness. It's estimated that up to 80% of people who are infected with HIV experience this illness.
The most common symptoms are:
fever (raised temperature)
Other symptoms can include:
swollen glands (nodes)
The symptoms, which can last up to four weeks, are a sign that your immune system is putting up a fight against the virus. These symptoms can all be caused by conditions other than HIV, and do not mean you have the virus. However, if you have several of these symptoms, and you think you have been at risk of HIV infection, you should get an HIV test. After the initial symptoms disappear, HIV will often not cause any further symptoms for many years. During this time, known as asymptomatic HIV infection, the virus continues to spread and damage your immune system. This process can take about 10 years, during which you will feel and appear well.
It is important to remember that not everyone with HIV experiences early symptoms, so you should still take an HIV test if you have put yourself as risk, even if you experience no symptoms.
Late-stage HIV infection:
If left untreated, HIV will weaken your ability to fight infection so much that you become vulnerable to serious illnesses. This stage of infection is known as AIDS, although doctors now prefer to use the term late-stage HIV infection. Typically, a person with late-stage HIV infection has:
white spots on the tongue or mouth
shortness of breath
fever of above 37C (100F) that lasts a number of weeks
swollen glands that last for more than three months
At this stage, you are at increased risk of life-threatening illnesses such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and some cancers. Many of these, though serious, can be treated and your health is likely to improve if you start HIV treatment.