Treatment and care

With effective treatments available for HIV, the majority of people diagnosed with HIV in the UK now have a very good prognosis and long life expectancy. However people living with HIV still need support to enable them to live well with HIV. Many people will experience side effects from HIV medication. People living with HIV may also have another long-term condition which needs to be managed alongside their HIV. There is also a need for support and information to help people come to terms with an HIV diagnosis and manage their condition effectively long-term.

Many people will experience side effects from HIV medication and may also have conditions relating to their HIV status. People also need support and information to help them come to terms with an HIV diagnosis and manage their condition effectively.

HIV treatment

HIV treatment is sometimes referred to as ART (‘antiretroviral treatment), ARVs (‘antiretrovirals’) or HAART (‘highly active antiretroviral therapy’).

Thanks to advances in treatment, people living with HIV are enjoying longer and healthier lives than ever before.  Antiretrovirals are the class of drugs used to treat HIV, which block the virus in different ways. Usually a combination of two or three antiretrovirals is used and most people will only need to take drugs once or twice a day.

People living with HIV need to keep strictly to their treatment regime, which is known as ‘adherence’. Taking the drugs in the right way and at the right time is very important; missing a dose of anti-HIV medication can lead to drug resistance. At least 95% adherence to treatment is needed to avoid this from happening.  The more drugs a person becomes resistant to, the fewer options they have for future treatment.

For detailed information on available treatments, treatment failure, drug resistance and side-effects please visit the following websites:

HIV treatment is exempt from NHS treatment charges which apply to some migrants and refused asylum seekers in England and Scotland.  For more information read our factsheet Will I Have to Pay?

Treatment as prevention

There is now conclusive evidence that as well as keeping people living with HIV well, HIV treatment can help prevent onwards transmission of HIV.  This is still a developing area of research, but one that is of increasing importance in HIV prevention and the lives of people living with HIV. 

Read our report on HIV Treatment as prevention for more details on these exciting developments. 

Fluctuating symptoms and side-effects

Despite the many benefits which treatments bring, HIV still has a serious impact on people's lives. The drugs are very powerful and it often takes time for the body to get adjusted to them. Common side effects include nausea, fatigue, diarrhoea, mood changes and anxiety.  People who are on effective treatment may also still experience a range of symptoms related to their HIV.  Some of these are constant, whilst others fluctuate.  HIV is a highly complex condition which can affect all areas of health.

NAT’s survey of fluctuating symptoms of HIV found that half of people living with HIV will experience at least one HIV-related symptom or treatment side-effect in a typical month.

GP training on HIV

GPs are increasingly important in both the diagnosis and the management of HIV. However, there are still unacceptably high rates of undiagnosed (22%) and late diagnosed (47%) HIV in the UK. Greater awareness amongst GPs of the need to test for HIV is vital to achieving more prompt diagnosis in most-affected populations.

Part of increasing HIV awareness amongst GPs is though effective training throughout their medical career. In NAT's briefing paper on GP training we found that while HIV is fairly prominent in the GP curriculum, there could be specific updates and amendments to increase awareness of HIV and to ensure GPs have the most up to date information on HIV.

For more information on GP training and where HIV is included in the curriculum and assessment process please see our briefing paper.

If you are living with HIV in England and want to know more about what to expect from your treatment and care, visit My Care My Voice on the Life with HIV website.