a woman slaps her forehead while she holds a giant pile of HIV medication pills in her hand

Frustrated with Treatment

Sometimes the HIV medications we take just don’t work. This may occur because the drugs don’t completely stop this virus from reproducing (making more copies of itself). As the virus makes copies of itself, changes (or mutations) sometimes occur.1

These changes can sometimes result in a new strain of the virus which is resistant to the meds you are taking.1 There are other reasons treatment doesn’t work. If we are not taking our medications daily as designed, we can give the virus the opportunity to grow and make the medications ineffective.

Frustrated with my HIV treatment

When I began treatment in 1998, I was taking 22 pills per day. I took seven in the morning before leaving to go to work, another seven during my lunch and the last seven at night before going to sleep. I was totally frustrated with treatment. Not only did I have to deal with the side effects from the regiment, but I was also fearing that someone at work would see me taking all the meds.

I was worried about becoming resistant to treatment

I lived in constant fear of not being able to continue to take all of the meds. I didn’t want to fail and become resistant to my treatment. By the time I started medications, I had been participating in a support group. There were two members who had a strain that current medications were not effective at treating. They sought out to join a clinical trial that was testing a new medication and had not been approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This only added to my fears.

Why is HIV drug resistance a problem?

HIV drug resistance is a problem because it means that the type of HIV you have is “resistant” to, or isn’t affected by, an HIV medication. Drug resistance can limit our treatment options which can or will work for us.

How I adjusted to taking many pills a day

Fortunately for me, I developed a strategy to get me through taking 22 pills a day. I adjusted to the side effects and made sure I had extra underwear and wet wipes when I left home. I eventually noticed coworkers taking medications and I have no idea what they were for. So, I relaxed, and it reduced my stress level about taking my meds while I was at work.

HIV drug resistance mean fewer options for treatment

If we develop or even acquire drug-resistant HIV, there is usually another med that will work. There is no reason to panic. However, with more resistance comes fewer second options and less flexibility. This means we may have to use drugs that are harder to take or have more side effects. I was able to get through several years of taking the 22 pills. My next regiment was reduced dramatically to just nine per day.

We, people living with HIV, can work actively to prevent drug resistance by remaining on treatment and adhering to our medications therapy. With today’s HIV regimens, “adherence” most commonly means taking medication once a day. With proper adherence, we can live a long and healthy life. If I could get through taking 22 pills per day, I want to suggest that taking one, two or three pills per day is achievable.

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