Adhering to your HIV drug treatment schedule can be challenging, mainly because it's hard to keep track of multiple medicines and their scheduled times. Regularly missing your HIV medication doses can lead to problems such as ill-health, drug resistance, and an increased risk of transmission.
If you miss one of your HIV medication doses, take it as soon as you remember. If more than 10 hours have already passed, it's better to wait for the next scheduled dose. Afterward, take your next dose as per the scheduled time. If you've missed multiple doses regularly, consult your healthcare provider immediately.
Taking a missed dose as soon as you remember is generally a good idea. However, there are a few exceptions, such as some drugs having side effects that are hard to deal with during the day. After you've missed one dose, double dosing your medication is also not a good idea, as explained next.
SHOULD I DOUBLE DOSE MY HIV MEDICATION AFTER MISSING ONE DOSE?
It is generally agreed that you should take a missed dose as soon as you remember that you've missed it. However, some people try to compensate for the missing dose by doubling the next one scheduled. Doubling your dose is not a good practice as it can overload the organs responsible for eliminating the drug.
Our body metabolizes drugs in specific ways. The organs responsible for metabolizing drugs, the kidneys and the liver, have drug-specific enzymes. These enzymes metabolize the drug into minor, more manageable compounds. Our bodies eliminate these compounds from the body once the drug has done its work. Doubling the dose can oversaturate these enzymes and decrease the ability of your organs to clear that drug.
The drug starts to build inside your body in concentrations when it is not eliminated effectively. This increased drug concentration can lead to increased side effects, unexpected side effects, and drug toxicity in severe cases.
Taking a missed dose as soon as you remember prevents drug build-up inside your body since and if there is still some time before your next scheduled dose. If 10 hours have passed since your last dose was scheduled, it is a good idea to wait for the next dose. You can also consult a doctor to check if a more accessible drug regime is available for you.
WHY IS TAKING HIV MEDICATION ON TIME SO IMPORTANT?
Taking HIV medication on time is extremely important. Missing a dose occasionally is not recommended, but it won’t be a serious problem in the long run. However, if you miss your doses regularly, there can be some serious problems. Make sure that you consult your physician about this problem as soon as possible.
Missing doses of your HIV medication leads to what is called drug resistance. Drug resistance occurs when an organism develops resistance against a drug that is supposed to eliminate it. Resistance occurs when a drug is introduced to an infectious agent in less than optimal concentrations, such as when you miss doses of your HIV medication. Increased drug resistance can cause severe problems in your HIV management. Development of a multi-drug resistant variant of the virus can also occur.
Another problem with missing HIV doses is that it increases the risk of viral transmission. The physical number of viruses in your blood is known as your viral load. HIV drugs are supposed to lower your viral load down to an undetectable level. An increased viral load due to non-adherence with HIV medication increases your chances of transmitting the virus to other people, such as your sexual partners.
Adhering to your drug regime is also important for your overall health. HIV can reduce your immune system's capacity to fend off disease-causing agents. Taking medication regularly, however, increases your immune system's capacity and thus keeps you relatively healthy.
WHAT TO DO IF I MISS MY HIV DOSES REGULARLY?
Missing doses occasionally might not be a big problem. However, missing doses often warrants a consultation with your physician. Regardless of why you keep missing your doses, there are several steps you can take to improve your drug adherence.
Your doctor may evaluate your health status and put you on an easier-to-follow drug regime. This new regime may include drugs with a low risk of resistance so that occasionally missing a dose does not cause significant problems. This new regime may also have fewer drugs than the old one so that it becomes easy for you to keep track of which medications to take and when exactly.
You can also try making a habit of taking your medication with something that you do every day. For example, you can take your HIV medication every day right after you brush your teeth. Since you brush your teeth every day (hopefully!), it can get a lot easier to remember to take your medication.
Try setting reminders on your phone for when it's time to take your medication. You can also leave post-it notes on your fridge or any other place you often come across in your house. Constant reminders to take your medicine positively contribute towards trying to make a habit.
DO I STILL HAVE TO TAKE HIV MEDICATION IF I HAVE AN UNDETECTABLE VIRAL LOAD?
Yes, you still need to take your HIV medication every day, even if your viral load is undetectable. Achieving undetectable viral loads is one thing; maintaining them is a whole other story.
Your viral load is undetectable solely because you took your medication regularly. Choosing not to take your medication as regularly as you were before can reduce the effectiveness of the drugs. In other words, you need to take medication every single day to maintain your status of undetectable viral load.
Keeping low levels of virus in your blood has been proven highly effective in the long-term management of HIV by several studies. Aside from improving your health in the long run, an undetectable viral load also helps to keep your partner(s) safe from acquiring an HIV infection from you.