The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Please review any specific side effects or special instructions with your doctor. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

Medications are given to treat and control HIV viral infections in the body. As research continues, new drugs are becoming available. It is extremely important to take the medications exactly as prescribed especially since HIV resistance to medication can develop if doses are skipped. Work with your doctor to develop a plan of treatment that can best fit your needs. This plan may change as new treatments become available.

Drugs are typically prescribed in combination. Treatment with a combination of drugs is referred to as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Doctors attribute longer survival and improved health in people with HIV infection to the use of HAART.

Prescription Medications

Protease inhibitors

  • Ritonavir
  • Saquinavir
  • Nelfinavir
  • Lopinavir/ritonavir
  • Fosamprenavir
  • Atazanavir
  • Tipranavir
  • Darunavir

Nucleoside and nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors

  • AZT
  • ddC
  • ddI
  • d4T
  • Lamivudine
  • Abacavir
  • Emtricitabine
  • Tenofovir
  • Zidovudine and lamivudine
  • Zidovudine, lamivudine, and abacavir
  • Abacavir and lamivudine
  • Emtricitabine and tenofovir

Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors

  • Delavirdine
  • Nevirapine
  • Efavirenz
  • Etravirine
  • Rilpivirine

Fusion inhibitors

  • Enfuvirtide

Integrase inhibitors

  • Raltegravir
  • Elvitegravir
  • Dolutegravir

CCR5 inhibitors

  • Maraviroc

Once a day complete combination treatment pills:

  • Efavirenz, tenofovir, and emtricitabine
  • Rilpivirine, tenofovir and emtricitabine
  • Elvitegravir, cobicistat, tendofovir and emtricitabine

Drugs to treat or prevent opportunistic infections

  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole
  • Pentamidine
  • Foscarnet
  • Ganciclovir
  • Atovaquone
  • Valacyclovir
  • Valganciclovir

In addition, combinations of some of the above medications can be prescribed as one pill.

Protease Inhibitors

Common names include:

  • Ritonavir
  • Saquinavir
  • Nelfinavir
  • Lopinavir/ritonavir
  • Fosamprenavir
  • Atazanavir
  • Tipranavir
  • Darunavir

Protease inhibitors interfere with HIV reproduction in the body during a late stage in the virus life cycle. This slows the growth of HIV.

They are in general well tolerated. Common side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Cholesterol abnormalities
  • Liver injury
  • Gastrointestinal upset
Nucleoside and Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors

Common names include:

  • AZT
  • ddC
  • ddI
  • d4T
  • Lamivudine
  • Abacavir
  • Emtricitabine
  • Tenofovir
  • Zidovudine and lamivudine
  • Zidovudine, lamivudine, and abacavir
  • Abacavir and lamivudine
  • Emtricitabine and tenofovir

Nucleoside and nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors interfere with HIV reproduction in the body during an early stage of the virus life cycle. The earliest HIV treatments are in this category, but newer medications in this class type are now well tolerated and remain as one of the best components of HIV treatment.

Possible side effects are very specific to each medications but can include:

  • Decrease the number of red and white blood cells
  • Nerve damage
  • Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Digestive system upset
  • Headache
  • Kidney failure
  • Life-threatening rashes
Non-nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors

Common names include:

  • Delavirdine
  • Nevirapine
  • Efavirenz
  • Etravirine
  • Rilpivirine

Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors interfere with HIV reproduction in the body, slowing the spread of HIV.

Possible side effects include:

Fusion Inhibitors

Common names include:

  • Enfuvirtide

Fusion inhibitors interfere with HIV fusion or attachment to certain receptors on cells in the body, slowing the spread of HIV.

Possible side effects include:

  • Infection site reactions, including itching, swelling, redness, pain or tenderness, hardened skin, bumps, or infection
  • Allergic reactions
Integrase Inhibitors

Common names include:

  • Raltegravir
  • Elvitegravir
  • Dolutegravir

Integrase inhibitors interfere with the integration of HIV in the nucleus of the cell, slowing the spread of HIV.

Possible side effects include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Rash
CCR5 Inhibitors

Common names include:

  • Maraviroc

CCR5 inhibitors interfere with HIV attachment to certain receptors on cells in the body, slowing the spread of HIV.

Possible side effects include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Liver injury
Drugs to Treat or Prevent Opportunistic Infections

Common names include:

  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole
  • Pentamidine
  • Foscarnet
  • Ganciclovir
  • Atovaquone
  • Valacyclovir
  • Valganciclovir

Special Considerations

Drugs do not cure HIV infection or AIDS. They are given to suppress the virus. If you are HIV-positive, but do not have symptoms of AIDS, the doctor may recommend delaying the start of medication therapy until the time is right. Most important is following up with your doctor who will help monitor the health of your immune system and together you will decide when and what the right treatment combination is for you.

Whenever you are taking medication, take the following precautions:

  • Take your medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Do not stop taking any prescription medication without talking to your doctor.
  • Do not share any prescription medication.
  • Know what the results and side effects. Report them to your doctor.
  • Some drugs can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one drug. This includes over-the-counter medication and herb or dietary supplements.
  • Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Call your doctor if symptoms worsen, new symptoms develop or you experience side effects. Due to the potential for adverse reactions to these drugs, it is important to visit your doctor regularly. Blood tests will likely be ordered before starting and during treatment, depending on your situation.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: David Horn, MD
  • Review Date: 11/2013 -
  • Update Date: 11/19/2013 -
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  • FDA approves new drug to treat HIV infection. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm364744.htm. Updated August 12, 2013. Accessed November 19, 2013.

  • HIV/AIDS. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease website. Available at: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/HIVAIDS/Understanding/Pages/whatAreHIVAIDS.aspx. Accessed November 19, 2013.

  • HIV/AIDS. Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/index.html. Updated November 8, 2013. Accessed November 19, 2013.

  • A guide to primary care of people with HIV/AIDS. National Institute of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://hab.hrsa.gov/deliverhivaidscare/files/primary2004ed.pdf. Accessed November 19, 2013.

  • HIV and AIDS treatment. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/hiv-and-aids/treatment.html. Updated December 2010. Accessed November 19, 2013.

  • 2/21/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Mallal S, Phillips E, Carosi G, et al. HLA-B5701 screening for hypersensitivity to abacavir. N Engl J Med. 2008;358:568-579.

  • 11/10/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Intelence (etravirine). US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm180579.htm. Updated August 30, 2013. Accessed November 19, 2013.

  • 2/4/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: HHS Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents Recommends a Fixed-Dose Combination Product of Elvitegravir/ Cobicistat/Tenofovir/Emtricitabine as an Alternative Regimen in Antiretroviral Treatment-Naive Individuals with HIV-1 Infection. Available at: http://aidsinfo.nih.gov/contentfiles/AdultARVStatementOnEVG%5FCOBI%5FTDF%5FFTC.pdf. Accessed November 19, 2013.