The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. 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 HIV infection and decrease the amount of virus in the body. As research continues, new drugs become available. It is extremely important to take the medications exactly as prescribed, even if the drug regimen is complicated or difficult to follow. 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.

Additional drugs may be ordered to treat associated infections or cancers.

Prescription Medications

Protease inhibitors

  • Ritonavir (Norvir)
  • Saquinavir (Invirase)
  • Indinavir (Crixivan)
  • Amprenavir (Agenerase)
  • Nelfinavir (Viracept)
  • Lopinavir (Kaletra)
  • Fosamprenavir (Lexiva)
  • Atazanavir (Reyataz)
  • Tipranavir (Aptivus)
  • Darunavir (Prezista)

Nucleoside and nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors

  • AZT (Zidovudine or ZDV, Retrovir)
  • ddC (Zalcitabine, Hivid)
  • ddI (Dideoxyinosine, Videx)
  • d4T (Stavudine, Zerit)
  • 3TC (Lamivudine, Epivir)
  • Abacavir (Ziagen)
  • FTC (Emtricitabine, Emtriva)
  • Tenofovir (Viread)

Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors

  • Delavirdine (Rescriptor)
  • Nevirapine (Viramune)
  • Efavirenz (Sustiva)
  • Etravirine (Intelence)

Fusion inhibitors

  • Enfuvirtide (Fuzeon)

Integrase inhibitors

  • Raltegravir (Isentress)

CCR5 inhibitors

  • Maraviroc (Selzentry)

Drugs to treat or prevent opportunistic infections

  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX)
  • Pentamidine (NebuPent)
  • Foscarnet (Foscavir)
  • Ganciclovir (Cytovene)
  • Atovaquone (Mepron)

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

Protease Inhibitors

Common names include:

  • Ritonavir (Norvir)
  • Saquinavir (Invirase)
  • Indinavir (Crixivan)
  • Amprenavir (Agenerase)
  • Nelfinavir (Viracept)
  • Lopinavir (Kaletra)
  • Fosamprenavir (Lexiva)
  • Atazanavir (Reyataz)
  • Tipranavir (Aptivus)
  • Darunavir (Prezista)

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

Possible side effects include:

Nucleoside and Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors

Common names include:

  • AZT (Zidovudine or ZDV)
  • ddC (Zalcitabine)
  • ddI (Dideoxyinosine)
  • d4T (Stavudine)
  • 3TC (Lamivudine)
  • Abacavir (Ziagen)
    • In some patients, abacavir can cause a hypersensitivity reaction, which can be life-threatening. Researchers found that screening for a particular gene can help to prevent this reaction.
  • FTC (Emtricitabine, Emtriva)
  • Tenofovir (Viread)

Nucleoside and nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors interfere with HIV reproduction in the body during an early stage of the virus life cycle.

Possible side effects include:

  • Decrease the number of red and white blood cells
  • Nerve damage
  • Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Digestive system upset
  • Headache
  • Kidney failure

Non-nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors

Common names include:

  • Delavirdine (Rescriptor)
  • Nevirapine (Viramune)
  • Efavirenz (Sustiva)
  • Etravirine (Intelence)

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:

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:

  • Vaccine site reactions (including itching, swelling, redness, pain or tenderness, hardened skin, bumps, or infection)
  • Allergic reactions

Integrase Inhibitors

Common names include:

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:

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

Drugs to Treat or Prevent Opportunistic Infections

Common names include:

  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX)
  • Pentamidine (NebuPent)
  • Foscarnet (Foscavir)
  • Ganciclovir (Cytovene)

Drugs may be given to prevent or treat HIV-related infections. Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX) and pentamidine (NebuPent) may be ordered when the number of infection-fighting cells in your immune system falls to a certain level. These drugs are given to prevent pneumonia from recurring. Foscarnet (Foscavir) and ganciclovir (Cytovene) may be used to treat cytomegalovirus eye infections.

Possible side effects depend on the drugs prescribed. They include:

  • Rash and itching are associated with trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX).
  • Decreased blood pressure, rash, and pancreatitis are associated with pentamidine (NebuPent).
  • Kidney problems, changes in blood counts, and seizures are associated with foscarnet (Foscavir).

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.

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 them without talking to your doctor.
  • Do not share them.
  • 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.