HIV Medication Side Effects


Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has revolutionized the treatment of HIV/AIDS, transforming it from a fatal disease into a manageable chronic condition. ART works by suppressing the replication of HIV, thereby preventing the virus from destroying the immune system and causing AIDS. While ART has been incredibly successful in extending the lives of millions of people with HIV, it is not without its side effects.

Types of HIV Medications

There are currently six main classes of HIV medications:

  1. Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs): These medications block the enzyme reverse transcriptase, which HIV needs to make copies of itself. Not unusual NRTIs consist of tenofovir, emtricitabine, and lamivudine.
  2. Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs): NNRTIs also block reverse transcriptase, but they bind to the enzyme in a different way than NRTIs. Common NNRTIs include efavirenz, rilpivirine, and nevirapine.
  3. Protease inhibitors (PIs): PIs block the enzyme protease, which HIV needs to assemble mature virus particles. Common PIs include darunavir, atazanavir, and lopinavir.
  4. Integrase strand transfer inhibitors (INSTIs): INSTIs block the enzyme integrase, which HIV needs to insert its genetic material into the DNA of host cells. Common INSTIs include dolutegravir, raltegravir, and elvitegravir.
  5. CCR5 antagonists: CCR5 antagonists block the CCR5 co-receptor, which HIV uses to enter host cells. The only currently available CCR5 antagonist is maraviroc.
  6. Fusion inhibitors: Fusion inhibitors block the fusion of HIV with the host cell membrane. The only currently available fusion inhibitor is enfuvirtide.

Side Effects of HIV Medications

The type and severity of side effects from HIV medications can vary depending on the individual and the specific medications they are taking. Some common side effects include:

  • Nausea and vomiting: These are often mild and go away on their own within a few weeks of starting treatment.
  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea can be managed with over-the-counter medications or prescription antidiarrheal drugs.
  • Fatigue: Fatigue is a common side effect of HIV medications, but it can usually be managed with lifestyle changes such as getting enough rest and eating a healthy diet.
  • Headache: Headaches are also a common side effect of HIV medications and can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Lipodystrophy: Lipodystrophy is a redistribution of body fat, which can cause fat to accumulate in some areas of the body (such as the abdomen and breasts) and disappear from other areas (such as the face, arms, and legs).
  • Rash: Rashes are a common side effect of some HIV medications, especially NNRTIs.
  • Liver problems: Some HIV medications can cause liver problems, so it is important to get regular blood tests to monitor liver function.
  • Bone problems: Some HIV medications, especially older NRTIs, can increase the risk of bone problems such as osteoporosis.

Managing Side Effects of HIV Medications

There are several things that people with HIV can do to manage side effects from their medications:

  • Talk to their doctor: The doctor can help identify the cause of the side effects and recommend treatment options.
  • Take medications as prescribed: It is important to take medications as prescribed to get the most benefit from them and to minimize side effects.
  • Make lifestyle changes: Some lifestyle changes, such as getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly, can help manage side effects.
  • Join a support group: Joining a support group can help people with HIV connect with others who are going through the same thing and learn from their experiences.


While side effects from HIV medications can be uncomfortable, they are usually manageable. People with HIV should work with their doctor to identify and manage side effects so that they can continue to take their medications and live long, healthy lives.

Additional Resources

  • The National AIDS Hotline: 1-800-442-2437
  • HIV/AIDS Treatment Information Service (ATIS): 1-800-227-4357
  • The AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP): 1-800-258-4495
  • HIVinfo:

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