When Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was first identified in the early 1980’s, there were no drugs to treat the disease, and few treatments for the life-threatening infections associated with it. Since that time, there have been significant advances in understanding how the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes the infection that, in its advanced stages, results in AIDS.

Although there is no cure for HIV infection or AIDS, there is now an effective arsenal of drugs. These drugs, when used in combination, can help control HIV infection. Patients who are on anti-HIV drugs, also known as antiretroviral drugs, take them for life. In the United States, there are tens of thousands of individuals taking anti-HIV drugs. As a result, nurses in many settings should expect to treat patients that are on these drug regimens. The patients may enter the health care system for conditions related to their HIV status, but very often, the encounter may be for conditions completely unrelated to their HIV status.

These drug regimens are rigid, complex and have some very serious side effects. They also have many significant interactions with commonly prescribed drugs.