HIV Treatment Plan: Common Medications You Should Know



The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is not yet curable, but it is still very treatable. People who are HIV positive can live long and productive lives thanks in large part to adhering to an effective HIV treatment plan.

Why Antiretrovirals Are Critical to HIV Treatment

HIV medication regimes typically included specialized medications known as antiretrovirals. Unlike bacteria which can divide and reproduce on their own, viruses must insert their genetic material (in the form of DNA or RNA) into infected host cells to reproduce.

Once delivered, these genetic blueprints tell the host cells how to create the specific proteins the virus needs to create copies of itself.

HIV is a Retrovirus
The HIV virus is different in several ways from other kinds of viruses. First, HIV is what is known as a retrovirus. This means that it requires extra steps to make copies of itself. Using an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, the HIV virus must first translate its viral RNA into a form of DNA that human cells can use.

HIV medications exploit this as an Achilles’ heel, turning the tables on the virus by disrupting its ability to make copies of itself at critical times in its life cycle.

Most Common HIV Treatment Plan Medications

The most effective HIV treatment plans include a mixture of different classes of antiviral medications. Known as a cocktail, targeted HIV medications are taken in specific combinations to fight the HIV virus. Each HIV drug works in a different way, interfering somewhere within the copying process, so that the virus cannot spread throughout the body.

Common Multiclass HIV Medications

As mentioned, HIV drug regimens are typically made up of various classes of drugs. Some HIV medications, known as multiclass drugs, combine different classes of drugs into a single medication form to create a whole medication regime. Multiclass medications include:

• Juluca (dolutegravir/rilpivirine)
• Biktarvy (bictegravir, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide)
• Odefsey (emtricitabine/rilpivirine/tenofovir alafenamide)
• Triumeq (abacavir/dolutegravir/lamivudine)
• Complera (emtricitabine/rilpivirine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate)
• Stribild elvitegravir/cobicistat/emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate
• Genvoya (elvitegravir/cobicistat/emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide)
• Atripla (efavirenz/emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate)

Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)

NRTIs, often called nukes, work by interfering with an enzyme known as reverse transcriptase. As mentioned, before the HIV virus can place its DNA into a cell, it needs reverse transcriptase to change its RNA into DNA form. NRTIs blocks this function, preventing more copies of the virus from being created. Common NRTIs include:

• Ziagen (abacavir)
• Epzicom (abacavir/lamivudine)
• Retrovir (zidovudine)
• Truvada (emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate)
• Emtriva (emtricitabine)
• Viread (tenofovir disoproxil fumarate)
• Descovy (emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide)
• Trizivir (abacavir/lamivudine/zidovudine)
• Combivir (lamivudine/zidovudine)
• Epivir (lamivudine)

Common Integrase inhibitors

Integrase inhibitors work by blocking an enzyme called integrase, which the HIV virus uses to insert its viral DNA into the host cell. Integrase inhibitors are usually some of the first medications used in HIV treatment regimens. They are often prescribed for newly diagnosed patients because they have fewer side effects and work well in slowing the progression of HIV. Integrase inhibitors include:

• Tivicay (dolutegravir)
• Isentress (raltegravir)
• Isentress HD (raltegravir extended-release HD)

Protease Inhibitors

Protease inhibitors are also an effective part of HIV treatment plans. They work by binding to an enzyme called protease the HIV virus needs to make copies of itself. By interrupting the life cycle of the virus, it also slows down the progression of the disease.

• Evotaz (atazanavir/cobicistat)
• Prezcobix (darunavir/cobicistat)
• Reyataz (atazanavir): Frequently taken together with ritonavir
• Norvir (ritonavir): Used to boost other medications, such as atazanavir, lopinavir, darunavir, or elvitegravir
• Prezista (darunavir): Always taken together with ritonavir
• Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir)
• Lexiva (fosamprenavir): frequently taken together with ritonavir
• Aptivus (tipranavir): Always taken together with ritonavir

Post-Attachment Inhibitors

Post attachment inhibitors are an example of a relatively new approach to combating the HIV virus. They work by attaching a protein on the surface of T cells (also called CD4 cells), blocking the HIV virus before it can enter and infect the cell.

• Trogarzo (ibalizumab): Always used in conjunction with other medications

Common HIV Medication Side Effects

As with all medications, HIV drug regimens can cause side effects. Some side effects are mild, and others can be severe. The most common HIV medication treatment plan side effects include:

• Nausea and or vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Dry mouth
• Pain
• Headaches
• Dizziness
• Fever
• Muscle aches or flu-like symptoms
• Fatigue or tiredness

Side effects can improve or worsen over time. Your healthcare provider can help you manage side effects of HIV medications. If you continue to have side effects, or they worsen, you should talk to your healthcare provider.

Additional Resources for People Living with HIV/AIDS

• For those who are newly diagnosed as HIV positive
• Making the most of your medical care
• AIDS and opportunistic infections (OIs)
• Mental health and HIV
• Healthy Living and HIV

ASP Cares Helps People Living with HIV /AIDS
ASP cares is a specialty pharmacy that focuses on providing medications for rare diseases and disorder such as HIV/AIDS, hemophilia, oncology (cancer), multiple sclerosis, PrEP (HIV prevention), and many others.

ASP offers comprehensive HIV medication treatment management, access to HIV medications (including programs that provide alternative funding to pay for HIV/AIDS related care, information and other related services.

If you, or someone you care about, is living with HIV/AIDS, we are here to help. From free, discreet nationwide delivery of HIV medications, to dedicated support, we are experts in fighting HIV.

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