HIV/AIDS Medication: A Comprehensive Overview of Antiretroviral Therapies

Amisha Jain
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
Dr. Akansha is a licensed Clinical Pharmacologist. She possesses remarkable knowledge in Pharmacovigilance, prescription analysis, drug information, and drug safety services. Additionally, she is a keen learner and an educator.

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hiv/aids medication

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has been a persistent global health challenge, necessitating continuous advancements in antiretroviral medications. 

The foundation of HIV treatment lies in Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), a blend of medications from diverse drug classes.

These medications play a key role in managing HIV infection and improving the quality of life for affected individuals.

The evolution of each HIV/AIDS medication has substantially improved the quality of life for those living with the virus. 

This article explores the various classes of antiretroviral drugs, each playing a crucial role in managing HIV/AIDS.

Types of Antiretroviral medications

Currently, there is no cure for AIDS, but medications prove effective in combating HIV and its complications. 

HIV/AIDS medication is crucial in managing the progression of the virus and improving the quality of life for individuals living with HIV.

These treatments aim to diminish HIV in your system, maintain the health of your immune system, and minimize potential complications.

The CDC aims to achieve the 90-90-90 plan by 2030, with targets of 90% diagnosed with HIV, 90% on therapy, and 90% achieving viral suppression.

Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs)

NRTIs are a class of antiretroviral drugs that inhibit the reverse transcriptase enzyme, a key component in the replication of the virus. 

These drugs, including Tenofovir and Emtricitabine, work by interfering with the virus’s ability to convert its RNA into DNA within human cells. 

NRTIs are often used in combination with other classes of drugs to enhance their effectiveness and reduce the risk of drug resistance.

Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs)

Various antibiotics in packetsSource: Denisfilm_From_Getty_Images
Various antiretroviral in packets

NNRTIs, such as Efavirenz and Nevirapine, also target the reverse transcriptase enzyme but do so through a different mechanism than NRTIs. 

By binding directly to the enzyme, this HIV/AIDS medication prevents the conversion of viral RNA into DNA. 

This dual inhibition approach enhances the overall effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy.

Integrase Inhibitors

Integrase is another crucial enzyme for HIV replication, and integrase inhibitors like Raltegravir and Dolutegravir disrupt this process. 

These drugs prevent the integration of viral DNA into the host cell’s genome, effectively blocking the virus’s ability to produce new copies of itself. 

Integrase inhibitors are known for their potency and high barrier to resistance.

Protease Inhibitors (PIs)

Protease inhibitors, such as Atazanavir and Lopinavir, target the enzyme protease, which is essential for the maturation of new viral particles. 

By inhibiting protease activity, PIs prevent the virus from producing mature, infectious particles. 

PIs are often used in combination with other classes to create a potent antiretroviral regimen.

Fusion Inhibitors

Enfuvirtide, a Fusion inhibitor, works by blocking the fusion of the viral and host cell membranes.

This prevents the virus from entering the host cell. 

This unique mechanism makes fusion inhibitors a valuable addition to antiretroviral regimens, particularly for individuals with drug-resistant strains.

CCR5 Antagonists and Post-Attachment Inhibitors

CCR5, a receptor in our body, plays a crucial role in HIV infection by being significantly involved in the infection process.

CCR5 antagonists, like Maraviroc, block the CCR5 co-receptor on the surface of CD4 cells, preventing HIV from entering and infecting these cells. 

Post-attachment inhibitors, although still in experimental stages, target the virus after it has attached to the host cell, interfering with subsequent steps of the viral replication cycle.

Attachment Inhibitors

Attachment inhibitors, such as Fostemsavir, prevent the virus from attaching to the host cell’s CD4 receptor. 

This novel class of drugs provides an additional line of defense against HIV and is particularly valuable for individuals with limited treatment options.

Capsid inhibitors

Capsid inhibitors represent a promising class of antiviral drugs designed to target the capsid protein, a vital component of a virus’s structure. 

By disrupting the capsid’s function, these inhibitors hinder viral replication, offering a potential avenue for the development of novel antiviral therapies. 

Research in this field is ongoing, showing promise for treating various viral infections. 

It’s essential to stay informed about the latest advancements and consult healthcare professionals for accurate and up-to-date information on capsid inhibitors.

Pharmacokinetic Enhancers

Pharmacokinetic enhancers, such as Ritonavir and Cobicistat, are not direct antiretroviral agents but serve to boost the effectiveness of other drugs. 

These enhancers inhibit enzymes that break down certain antiretroviral drugs, thereby increasing their concentration in the bloodstream and extending their duration of action.

Do not consume any HIV/AIDS medication without consulting a doctor first. These medications may cause severe adverse effects, such as drug resistance, compromised immune response, and even organ damage.

Side effects of HIV/AIDS medication

pms nauseaSource: Asia_Images_Group
A woman suffering from Nausea

While antiretroviral medications are generally effective, they may also be associated with side effects. 

It’s important to note that the severity of side effects can vary among individuals. 

Here are some common side effects associated with HIV/AIDS medications:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Rash
  • Changes in body fat distribution

Apart from these visible changes, the following other side effects can also be seen:

  • Elevated cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Liver and kidney issues
  • Immune Reconstitution Inflammatory Syndrome (IRIS)


Progress in HIV/AIDS medications has been remarkable, featuring diverse antiretroviral drugs that enhance personalized treatment regimens, making them more effective.

Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), including drug classes like Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors, Integrase inhibitors, Attachment inhibitors,
etc., has significantly improved the quality of life for those affected. 

Capsid inhibitors and Pharmacokinetic enhancers represent promising avenues for future antiviral therapies.

Side effects may vary in severity among individuals. 

Nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, changes in sleeping patterns, and changes in body fat distribution are commonly observed in individuals taking HIV/AIDS medication.

A detailed consultation with a professional is advised to gain a better understanding of these medications and their suitability for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best medication for HIV?

The choice of the best medication for HIV depends on individual factors. Common classes include NRTIs, NNRTIs, protease inhibitors, integrase inhibitors, and entry/fusion inhibitors. A combination of these, known as Antiretroviral therapy (ART), is typically prescribed based on viral load, CD4 count, and patient history.

What are the three HIV drugs?

The three main classes of HIV drugs are NRTIs (Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors), NNRTIs (Non-nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors), and PIs (Protease Inhibitors). Combinations of these drugs, often with Integrase Inhibitors, form the backbone of Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) for HIV management.

What are the two drugs for HIV?

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV typically involves a combination of two NRTIs (Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors) plus another drug from either the NNRTI, PI, or integrase inhibitor class. This combination aims to suppress viral replication and prevent drug resistance effectively.

What is the antibiotic for HIV?

Antibiotics are not used to treat HIV. Antiretroviral drugs, such as NRTIs, NNRTIs, PIs, and integrase inhibitors, are specifically designed to target the virus in different ways. These drugs, not antibiotics, are essential for managing HIV and preventing disease progression.

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