Topic Overview

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the combination of several antiretroviral medicines used to slow the rate at which HIV makes copies of itself (multiplies) in the body. A combination of three or more antiretroviral medicines is more effective than using just one medicine (monotherapy) to treat HIV.

The use of three or more antiretroviral medicines—sometimes referred to as an anti-HIV "cocktail"—is currently the standard treatment for HIV infection. So far, this treatment offers the best chance of preventing HIV from multiplying, which allows your immune system to stay healthy. The goal of antiretroviral therapy is to reduce the amount of virus in your body (viral load) to a level that can no longer be detected with current blood tests.

Antiretroviral medicines that are often used to treat HIV include:

  • Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors, also called nucleoside analogs, such as abacavir, emtricitabine, and tenofovir. These medicines are often combined for best results.
  • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), such as efavirenz, etravirine, and nevirapine.
  • Protease inhibitors (PIs), such as atazanavir, darunavir, and ritonavir.
  • Entry inhibitors, such as enfuvirtide and maraviroc.
  • Integrase inhibitors, such as raltegravir.

Some medicines are available combined together in one pill. This reduces the number of pills to be taken each day.

Experts recommend using one of the following programs for people who begin treatment for HIV:footnote 1

  • Dolutegravir + abacavir + lamivudine
  • Dolutegravir + tenofovir + emtricitabine
  • Elvitegravir + cobicistat + tenofovir + emtricitabine
  • Raltegravir + tenofovir + emtricitabine
  • Ritonavir-boosted darunavir + tenofovir + emtricitabine

Some of the medicines listed above may not be used in some provinces. For information on which medicines are used in your province, talk with your doctor.

Other drug combinations are approved and may be used in some cases.

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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents (2015). Guidelines for the use of antiretroviral agents in HIV-1-infected adults and adolescents. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed May 5, 2015.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine

Current as ofJuly 9, 2015