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.

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

  • Dolutegravir + abacavir + lamivudine
  • Dolutegravir + tenofovir + emtricitabine
  • Elvitegravir + cobicistat + tenofovir + emtricitabine
  • Raltegravir + tenofovir + emtricitabine
  • Ritonavir-boosted darunavir + tenofovir + emtricitabine

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

Also, studies have shown that if you are not infected with HIV, taking antiretroviral medicines can protect you against HIV.2, 3 But to keep your risk low, you still need to use safer sex practices.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
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.© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.