Treating HIV and AIDS

Photo of a pomegranate

stay healthier longer

When you find out that you're HIV positive, you may feel confused about what to do.

Kaiser Permanente takes a comprehensive approach to HIV treatment (video)Kaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites, or mobile apps.. We treat the whole you, and we have many other resources that can help people with HIV stay as healthy as possible. Your care team will guide you to treatments that can help you stay healthier longer.


Medications that prevent HIV from multiplying and help keep your immune system healthy (antiretrovirals) are the primary treatment for HIV infection.

Taking antiretroviral medicines can allow you to stay healthy for a long time, but success depends on you. You need to take them as directed by your doctor to prevent drug resistance and an increase in the level of HIV in your blood. The level of HIV in your bloodstream is also referred to as the “viral load." Talk to your doctor about when to start taking antiretroviral medications.

There are several types of antiretroviral medications:

  • Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors
  • Nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
  • Protease inhibitors (PIs)
  • Fusion, attachment, co-receptor, and entry inhibitors
  • Integrase inhibitors

You'll have frequent blood tests to check your viral load and CD4+ cell count and other important laboratory tests (including STD tests) while you're taking HIV medicines.

Taking ART

When you start HIV medications, your doctor will prescribe antiretroviral therapy (ART). Although you may be taking only one pill, ART contains several antiretroviral medicines. This helps to reduce the risk of the HIV virus becoming resistant to any single medication. 

Preventing other infections

If too many CD4+ cells are destroyed, your immune system becomes weak, and your body can no longer fight off opportunistic infections, such as some types of pneumonia. Your doctor may also recommend medicines and vaccinations to prevent other illnesses that people with HIV can get.

Keep your treatment on track

Over the past few years, HIV treatment has become much simpler, and most people take medicine for HIV that needs to be taken only once or twice a day. Here are some tips for keeping your treatment on track:

A pharmacist explains a medication to a manKnow your medicines. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain each of your medicines and what to do if you miss a dose. Each medicine is different, and if you understand what you're taking and how it helps, it may be easier to follow your schedule.

Know when to take your medicines. Try to take them around the same times every day. You can use this form (PDF) and this form (PDF) to keep track of your treatment, so you can go over it with your doctor. If you don't use a form, be sure to keep a list of all your medicines, and have your doctor review it at each visit.

Use a pillbox with compartments for each time you need to take your medicines. Using a pillbox lets you know when you have taken each dose so that you don't miss one.

Learn more tips for managing your medications.

Managing side effects

Some medicines may have unpleasant side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what side effects to expect.

Tell your doctor or HIV care team right away if you have any serious side effects. Don't stop taking your medicine or change the dose on your own — the medicine could stop working.

If you're having difficulty taking your medicines exactly as prescribed, talk with or email your doctor through, or consult your HIV care team. They may be able to help you manage your side effects, adjust your medicine, or prescribe a different one. Call if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.

If treatment isn't effective

If your viral load doesn't drop as expected or goes up, or if your CD4+ cell count starts to fall, your doctor will try to determine why the treatment wasn't effective.

There are 2 main reasons why HIV treatment fails:

  • The HIV virus has become resistant. You may need a different combination of medicines.
  • You didn't take your medicines as prescribed.

Reviewed by: Michael A. Horberg, MD, October 2018 

HIV care in your area

HIV testing saves lives

One-third of the people newly infected with HIV are under age 30Kaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites..  HIV expert Michael Horberg, MD, talks about why everyone should be tested.