Currently, there is no cure for aids, but there are few drugs that are effective in fighting the HIV and reduce the complications. The treatments are designed to lessen the virus's effect in the body and keep the immune system healthy.
Designing the Treatment
Doctors and the patient design the treatment together, taking following points into consideration
• Willingness to begin the treatment
• Health problems
• Stage of the disease
Overview of Treatment for AIDS
The most common drug for the HIV virus is AZT. As of course these drugs will help prevent AIDS as AIDS comes from the HIV virus. AZT became approved in 1986 and was the first drug to be approved by the FDA. Now there are about 30 other drugs that have been approved and more there are still some under development. Right now there are 5 classes of HIV drugs. Each class affects the virus at different points in its life cycle. Keep in mind that no drug can currently cure HIV. One drug by itself is not enough, but 3 drugs could do the best job as it will better control the body’s immune system.
The trick is to find the right combination of drugs that will successfully treat the patient's stage of HIV. The five different classes are separated in the different ways it will prevent HIV from replicating in the body. Here are the four most common medications to treat AIDS and HIV.
Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs)
These are also called “nukes.” These types of drugs block a significant step in the HIV reproduction process. The drug blocks the building blocks in the production of DNA of the HIV. The drug blocks a special enzyme that the virus uses to make copies of itself.
The drugs included are:
• Abacavir (Ziagen, ABC)
• Didanosine (Videx, dideoxyinosine, DDL)
• Emtricitabine (Emtriva, FTC)
• Lamivudine (Epivir, 3TC)
• Stavudine (Zerit, d4T)
• Tenofovir (Viread, TDF)
• Zalcitabine (Hivid, ddC)
• Zidovudine (Retrovir, ZDV or AZT)
Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs):
These are called “non-nukes” but they work very similar to “nukes”. These types of drugs block the enzyme and prevent the HIV virus from making copies of itself. However the “non-nukes” affect the enzyme directly and make the virus not function properly.
Protease Inhibitors (PIs)
To understand this drug we must first understand how HIV replicates inside the cell. When HIV replicates it creates long strands of its own genetic material. The long strands are cut into shorter strands in order for the HIV virus to produce more copies of itself. There is an enzyme that cuts up these long stands and it is called protease. So protease inhibitors block the enzyme from being cut up into long strands of genetic material. This way the DNA is no longer functional.
- Amprenavir (Agenerase, APV)
- Atazanavir (Reyataz, ATV)
- Fosamprenavir (Lexiva, FOS)
- Indinavir (Crixivan, IDV)
- Lopinavir (Kaletra, LPV/r)
- Ritonavir (Norvir, RIT)
- Saquinavir (Fortovase, Invirase, SQV)
These are medications that block from entering the cell at all. HIV needs a special way to bond and attach to the CD4 cells. The virus does this through receptor sites which are special structures. The receptor sites are found on all kinds of different cells. Fusion inhibitors target the receptor sites and prevent them from attacking the healthy cells.
Drugs included are Enfuvirtide, also known as Fuzeon or T-20.
Highly active antivertoviral therapy(HAART)
This therapy was introduced in 1996 and is often referred as cocktail. A combination of 3 or more drugs like anti retroviral medication and protease inhibitors. It is an effective way to slow down the way HIV replicates. The aim of the treatment is to reduce the virus in the body.
There other medications besides those 4 however they are the most common. There are also other medications to prevent the side-effects from taking medications in the first place. Some side-effects of taking HIV medications are that the patient might experience pain or nausea. Of course there are medications specifically for other health conditions. So it is best to follow your daily or weekly prescriptions in addition to the medications that you take for HIV.
Although the purpose of treatment of AIDS is to fight the virus, there an equally important agenda to have a minimal side effects. Often times, newer medications have fewer side effects; then one needs to take precaution and reduce the dose to cope with it.
Common side effects include fatigue, anemia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, insomnia, headaches, skin rash, pain in the nerves and weight loss. Discuss your the doctor the potential side effects of each type of treatment. It is better to be prepared for them than blindsided down the road. The side effects could also be due to other infections, diet, other drugs or a pre-existing condition.
The side effects vary from person to person and can affect daily life.
Long term side effects include
• Fat redistribution: the body changes how it produces, stores and uses fat. The patient might lose fat from the face and legs and gain some on the abdomen.
• Increase in the level of cholesterol; it enhances the risk of heart disease
• Blood sugar level is elevated: exercise, weight management can bring it in control; medicines are also used if required.
• Bone density reduces, it increases the risk of fractures, vitamins, and calcium supplements are recommended.
How to cope with the side effects
• Fatigue: take adequate rest during the day, eat healthily and exercise to keep fit.
• Vomiting and nausea: avoid things that trigger it, eat small meals and drink water to avoid dehydration.
• Weight loss: consult nutritionist to maintain weight. Take protein shake.
If the symptoms are severe and prolonged, then seek medical attention.
The Bottom Line.
Overall, medications have side-effects and need to be taken seriously. So talk to your doctor often to make sure that your symptoms, medications, and lifestyle are manageable, and don’t wait until you have severe, debilitating symptoms. It is best to get tested and start on a treatment plan that is right for you. Treatment can also take a serious mental toll on a patient, an aspect that is too commonly overlooked, so be sure to reach out for others for support as part of your treatment plan.
- There is no cure for AIDS.
- Treatment can extend the life and quality of life for the patient.
- Targeting the disease based on stage of progression ensures that medication will have the greatest impact.