HIV: Tips for Taking Your Meds

Medically Reviewed by Jonathan E. Kaplan, MD on May 16, 2023
4 min read

You need to take your HIV medications every single day, on schedule, to keep your viral load low. That keeps you from getting sick and helps prevent the virus from spreading to others. When you take your medicine correctly, you also help ensure that your drugs will continue to work to control your HIV. If you don’t take your medications exactly as directed, not only can your viral load increase, but your body can also become resistant to these medicines. That means they stop working.

For those whose viral load is undetectable and who may prefer an injection to daily pill taking, CABENUVA (monthly or bimonthly injection) is now available. Consult your doctor about whether it might be an option. 

But if you have a pill regime to follow, how do you remember to take these meds every day? Both new tech tools and old-school tips can help you stay on track with your HIV treatment.

Your HIV treatment plan may require you to take meds at different points throughout the day. You may need to take some pills with food and others on an empty stomach. The schedule can be a challenge even under the best circumstances. But you may find it especially hard to stick to it every day if:

  • You’re busy or distracted on some days.
  • Some pills are hard to swallow or cause side effects that make you want to avoid taking them.
  • You’ve been taking HIV meds for years and simply get tired of taking pills throughout the day.
  • You have to work late or you’re away from home and you’re out of your normal routine.
  • You’re depressed.
  • Over time, taking pills becomes so routine, you sometimes forget.

Try these simple fixes to help you stick to your HIV treatment plan:

Make sure you know how to take your meds. Ask your pharmacist any questions about how and when to take your HIV meds. Your prescription insert will list how often to take a pill, and whether you need to take it on an empty stomach or with food.

Share challenges with your doctor. If you find it difficult to stick to your HIV treatment, let your doctor know right away. If your meds cause side effects, the doctor may be able to adjust your dose or suggest foods to eat when you take your pills. Your doctor can also offer ways to make it easier to swallow your pills. If your work schedule is erratic or you’re away from home a lot, you might be able get extra doses so you’ll have your medicine at home and in the office.

Create a schedule. Create a simple timeline on paper or your computer. List when you should take each pill each day. If you need to take some meds with food, list your daily meals and pills you take with those meals.

Pair pill time with daily events. If you just need to remember to take a pill at a certain time of day, pair taking the pill with an activity you usually do at the same time each day, like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or reading the news.

Write it on the wall. On a printed or dry erase wall calendar, write down the times of day when you’re supposed to take your meds. List reminders to refill your meds ahead of time, so you don’t run out.

Use your smart devices. If you have a smartphone or smartwatch, download a free pill reminder app that alerts you with a notification when it’s time to take certain meds. If you don’t want to add more apps to your phone, just set reminders in your phone’s or watch’s alarm or calendar. Create a recurring reminder to take your pills at certain times of day.

Pop ’em in a pillbox. Look for a plastic pill container at your local store or online. Each compartment lists the day of the week or month and holds all the pills you take daily. Once the compartment is empty, you’ll know you’ve taken your day’s meds. Some pillboxes even have alarms that remind you to take your pills at the correct times each day.

Post notes. Slap sticky notes with reminders about taking your meds on your bathroom mirror, the front of your fridge, or on your computer screen. When you brush your teeth, grab breakfast, or log onto your computer each morning, you’ll see the notes.

Leave pills where you can’t miss them. Place your pill container near your coffeepot, alarm clock, phone charger, or your toothbrush so you’ll see it each day.

Ask family or friends to remind you. Have family members or friends offered to support you as you start your new HIV medication plan? Ask them to text or email you from time to time with reminders to take your pills.

Set up automatic refills. Your pharmacy can set up an automatic refill for your current prescriptions, so you won’t run out of meds. They’ll contact you to let you know your refill is ready to pick up or reach out to your doctor if your prescription needs a renewal.