HIV: Taking Antiretroviral Medicines

Skip Navigation


Taking antiretroviral medicines for HIV can help you stay healthy and live about as long as someone without HIV. Often the medicines are combined in a single pill. Most of the time, they are taken once or twice a day.

For treatment to work well, try not to miss any doses. Missing doses can lead to problems like drug resistance and higher viral loads. The disease may also get worse.

How can you take your medicines safely?

Stay on your schedule

  • Know how to take your medicine. Some medicines need to be taken with food, and others need to be taken on an empty stomach.
  • Try not to miss any doses. This will help you stay healthy. It may help to use a pillbox with compartments for each time you need to take your medicine. Or use an alarm on your phone to remind you.
  • Know how to handle a missed dose. Talk with your doctor about what you should do if you miss a dose. If you take more than one medicine, ask what to do for each medicine. The advice may be different for each one.
  • If you are missing doses, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can offer ideas or support. For example:
    • If you're having trouble paying for your medicines, there are programs that can help.
    • If you have a mental health condition or substance use disorder, your doctor can connect you with counseling.

Other tips

  • Always check with your doctor before taking any other medicines. These include over-the-counter medicines and any herbal or "natural" supplements.
  • Learn about other medicines you shouldn't take at the same time as your antiretroviral medicines.
  • Watch for side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what to expect. Tell your doctor right away if you have any serious side effects. Do not stop taking your medicine or change the dose on your own. This could cause the medicine to stop working. Work with your doctor to find a solution.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems with your medicine.


Current as of: June 12, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.