Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 1998;57(2):328

See related article on treating HIV disease.

The HIV virus is so strong, it can fight off the effect of HIV medicines if the level of medicine in your body goes down, even for only a few hours. To keep the level of medicine in your body from dropping too low, you have to take all your medicines on an exact schedule. This means taking every medicine at the same time every day.

Why does it matter when I take my medicine?

The most important thing to remember about HIV medicines is that skipping pills or forgetting to take them is worse than not taking any medicines at all. If you take all your pills when you're supposed to, you can live longer and feel better. If you don't take your pills at the right times, the medicine level in your body gets too low to protect you.

How can I remember when to take all my medicines?

You have a lot of pills to take. The directions about taking them may confuse you. It helps if you put your daily activities—the time you get up, the time you go to bed and the times you eat meals—on a schedule. This schedule makes it easier to plan when to take all your medicines. (People with diabetes have to follow a similar plan.)

Using a schedule, or a time line like the one shown below, may help you to remember when to take your medicines. Here's how to use a time line:

  1. Fill in the blanks with the time that you wake up, and the time you eat breakfast, lunch and supper, and a bedtime snack, if you have one.

  2. Circle the medicines you are taking.

  3. Now fill in the other blanks with the times you plan to take each medicine.

  4. An alarm clock or a programmable watch can remind you when it's time to take each pill.

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