Human immunodeficiency virus is a virus that attacks cells in the immune system. These cells, called CD4 cells, help your body fight infection. HIV infection can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, which is a later stage of the disease when the immune system has been severely damaged.
With a damaged immune system, the body has a harder time defending itself against bacteria, viruses and even some types of cancer. As a result, patients with HIV more often die from these complications than from the virus itself. Unlike in the past, HIV infections can now be well controlled with medications, and many patients live a stable life.
Anti-HIV medications are the keys to controlling an HIV infection. These medications are commonly known as "antiretrovirals" and can inhibit the HIV virus in different ways. Some prevent the virus from multiplying; others prevent the virus from entering healthy cells. The many classes of antiretrovirals include nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, CCR5 antagonists, protease inhibitors, integrase inhibitors and fusion inhibitors.
Doctors and researchers have developed ways to combine two or more of these types of medications to control HIV in the most effective way. These "highly-active" antiretroviral therapy treatment regimens may involve taking two or more pills a couple times a day. Some companies combine the medications into one pill, which could make it easier to take anti-HIV medications regularly.
Taking anti-HIV medications regularly and as directed by your doctor and pharmacist can help stop the virus from multiplying and attacking your immune system. It also prevents the virus from developing resistance, which is when the virus changes form and medications do not work as well.
Because you will be taking these medications for a long time, it's important to know that there are some common drugs that can interact with anti-HIV medications. You should especially keep this in mind when starting a new medication because such interactions can make your anti-HIV medications not work properly, even if you take them regularly. Some substances can also cause the anti-HIV medications to reach harmfully high levels in the blood, leading to more side effects.
What medications should I watch out for?
Several types of medications that your doctor prescribes can interact with anti-HIV medications. Examples include:
• Cholesterol-lowering medications
• Anti-arrhythmia medications
• Seizure medications
Products you can buy without a prescription can also cause anti-HIV medications to not work properly. Some of the most common over-the-counter medications that can do this include ones that help manage heartburn. Heartburn remedies that you can buy over the counter are similar to prescription medications for gastroesophageal reflux disease, and they interact with anti-HIV medications in the same way. The three types of these acid suppressant medications are:
• Antacids such as Alka-Seltzer, Brioschi, Gaviscon, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, Tums
• H2 blockers such as Axid (nizatidine), Pepcid AC (famotidine), Pepcid Complete, Tagamet (cimetidine), Zantac (rantidine)
• Proton pump inhibitors such as Prevacid 24HR (lansoprazole), Prilosec OTC (omeprazole), Zegerid OTC (omeprazole and sodium bicarbonate)
Acid suppressants reduce the acid in the stomach to stop the irritation and heartburn symptoms that happen when acid leaks back into the esophagus. Some anti-HIV medications actually need acid in the stomach to be properly absorbed in your body. If there is not enough acid, there is a decreased amount of anti-HIV medication in your blood to fight the virus, even if you are taking the anti-HIV medications correctly. Having lower levels of anti-HIV medication puts you at risk for uncontrolled HIV and resistance.