Understanding Single-Tablet Treatments for HIV

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Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, affects your body’s immune system, making it harder to ward off infections and certain kinds of cancer. Without treatment, HIV can advance to become acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, the most severe form of the disease. Though there is not a cure for HIV, there are treatments known as anti-retroviral therapy (ART) that can decrease the amount of HIV in your body and help prevent it from progressing to AIDS. Many people with HIV take multiple pills each day, comprised of various types of ART, but recently newer single-table treatments have been developed that deliver multiple HIV medications in the form of a once-daily pill.

An Overview of HIV Treatment

HIV can replicate itself very quickly within your body. Scientists discovered using a few different kinds of HIV medications together as a treatment regimen works better than taking a single medication. This allows the virus to be “attacked” in more than one way, decreasing its ability to keep multiplying. Six different classes of medications are currently being used. And HIV treatment regimens often include three different medications from at least two classes.

HIV medications must be taken every day, exactly as prescribed. This is necessary not only for the treatment to work effectively, but to also decrease your risk of developing drug resistance. The HIV virus has the ability to mutate, or change, and when doses of medication are missed, it’s possible that new, slightly different versions of the virus can be made that are resistant to your current medication. This is why good adherence to your HIV treatment regimen is so important.

Is a one-pill treatment for HIV a better alternative?

For some people, it may be. Taking a single pill is clearly easier than taking multiple, especially if they have to be taken at different points throughout the day. Missed doses and medication errors are less likely with a single pill. Some patients with HIV also have “selective non-adherence”, where they take some medications but not all of them, due to side effects, cost, etc. A single-tablet treatment ensures that the patient is getting the full regimen as prescribed.

Several studies have confirmed this. Patients using a single-tablet for HIV treatment have improved adherence when compared to those whose therapy required two or more pills. In addition, patients on single tablet regimens had fewer hospitalizations and lower overall health care costs. Greater patient satisfaction was also reported.

Who is a good candidate for single-tablet treatment for HIV?

If you have been recently diagnosed with HIV and are starting anti-retroviral therapy for the first time, you may be a good fit for single-tablet treatment. This is because you are less likely to have developed drug-resistance. You can’t be intolerant to any of the individual components of the single pill for it to work effectively.

If you currently take the medications separately that are used to create one of the single-tablet regimens available, you may also be a good candidate.

If you are struggling with adherence or are just looking to make your HIV treatment easier to manage, talk to you doctor to see if a single pill may be an option for you. Even if there isn’t a suitable choice for you now, there may be hope in the future. New single-tablet treatments are expected to be coming, using different combinations of anti-HIV medications.  Scientists are even optimistic that a once-weekly pill to treat HIV may be available in the years to come.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 11
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  6. Single-Tablet Regimens in HIV Therapy. Infectious Diseases and Therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4108118/
  7. Treatment for HIV. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://www.hiv.va.gov/patient/treat/single-page.asp
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