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HIV: Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) - Topic Overview

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the combination of several antiretroviral medicines used to slow the rate at which HIV makes copies of itself (multiplies) in the body. A combination of three or more antiretroviral medicines is more effective than using just one medicine (monotherapy) to treat HIV.

The use of three or more antiretroviral medicines—sometimes referred to as an anti-HIV "cocktail"—is currently the standard treatment for HIV infection. So far, this treatment offers the best chance of preventing HIV from multiplying, which allows your immune system to stay healthy. The goal of antiretroviral therapy is to reduce the amount of virus in your body (viral load) to a level that can no longer be detected with current blood tests.

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HIV Viral Load Testing

The HIV viral load is the number of copies of the human immunodeficiency virus in your blood and other parts of your body. The HIV viral load test involves taking a blood sample from a vein in your arm. The amount of HIV in your blood is then measured. Along with other tests, the HIV viral load test helps monitor your disease, guide HIV therapy, and predict how your disease may progress. Keeping your viral load low can reduce complications of HIV disease and extend your life. Two common test numbers...

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Antiretroviral medicines that are often used to treat HIV include:

Some medicines are available combined together in one pill. This reduces the number of pills to be taken each day.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health recommends using one of the following programs for people who begin treatment for HIV:1

  • Efavirenz + tenofovir + emtricitabine
  • Ritonavir-boosted atazanavir + tenofovir + emtricitabine
  • Ritonavir-boosted darunavir + tenofovir + emtricitabine
  • Raltegravir + tenofovir + emtricitabine

Other drug combinations are approved and may be used in some cases.

1

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 22, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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