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HIV: Taking Antiretroviral Medicines

British Columbia Specific Information

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) causes an infection that damages the immune system. The immune system is the part of the body that fights infection and disease. If untreated, HIV infection will lead to a serious disease called Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

For information on HIV infection and care in British Columbia, visit BC Centre for Disease Control and BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. For information on HIV drug coverage in B.C., please visit the Ministry of Health BC PharmaCare website.

In B.C. HIV testing guidelines recommend that everyone have an HIV test at least every 5 years. They recommend more frequent testing for people who belong to populations that have a greater chance of having HIV, are pregnant, experience a change in their health that suggests HIV, or if someone requests a test. For information on HIV testing, see HealthLinkBC File #08m HIV and HIV Tests and HealthLinkBC File #38a HIV Testing in Pregnancy.


Taking antiretroviral medicines for HIV can help you stay healthy and live about as long as someone without HIV. Often the medicines are combined in a single pill. Most of the time, they are taken once or twice a day.

For treatment to work well, try not to miss any doses. Missing doses can lead to problems like drug resistance and higher viral loads. The disease may also get worse.

How can you take your medicines safely?

Stay on your schedule

  • Know how to take your medicine. Some medicines need to be taken with food, and others need to be taken on an empty stomach.
  • Try not to miss any doses. This will help you stay healthy. It may help to use a pillbox with compartments for each time you need to take your medicine. Or use an alarm on your phone to remind you.
  • Know how to handle a missed dose. Talk with your doctor about what you should do if you miss a dose. If you take more than one medicine, ask what to do for each medicine. The advice may be different for each one.
  • If you are missing doses, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can offer ideas or support. For example:
    • If you're having trouble paying for your medicines, there are programs that can help.
    • If you have a mental health condition or substance use disorder, your doctor can connect you with counselling.

Other tips

  • Always check with your doctor before taking any other medicines. These include over-the-counter medicines and natural health products.
  • Learn about other medicines you shouldn't take at the same time as your antiretroviral medicines.
  • Watch for side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what to expect. Tell your doctor right away if you have any serious side effects. Do not stop taking your medicine or change the dose on your own. This could cause the medicine to stop working. Work with your doctor to find a solution.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems with your medicine.


Current as of: October 31, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Peter Shalit MD, PhD - Internal Medicine
Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine