Anti-retroviral drugs are designed to control HIV progression and reduce transmission risk of the virus. However, these drugs also bring concerning side effects which make drug takers look sicker than non-takers.
Anti-retroviral Drug Therapy
Anti-retroviral drugs are several classes of anti-retroviral agents which act on different HIV stages and primarily used to maintain functions of the immune system are which being targeted by the virus.
Medical practitioners immediately suggest ART once the immune system begins to degrade. ART brings both positive and negative effects to patients and side effects may depend on age, race and other health factors.
Modes of Therapy
Standard ART is the usual treatment for an HIV-positive patient which may include a combination of three to five drugs for a lifetime. The treatment consists of the following combination guidelines to maximise suppression of the HIV virus and stop its progression:
- Should be initiated in all patients with history of an AIDS-defining illness or low CD4 count
- Should be initiated regardless of CD4 count if the patient has at least one of the following conditions: pregnancy, HIV-associated nephropathy or hepatitis B virus
- Recommended among patients with CD4 count between 350 and 500 cells/mm3
- Initiation of ART must be to patients who are willing and able to commit to the lifelong treatment and understand its benefits and risks
Adverse Effects of ART
Non-takers look healthy on the outside compared to ART takers until they reach full-blown AIDS and suffer opportunistic infections. However, HIV patients may also die faster than non-takers due to several side effects caused by drug combination which supposes to make the person healthy. ART has the following adverse effects:
1. Cancer risk: Certain tumours may become aggressive for ART takers, while other cancers are significantly reduced such as Kaposi's sarcoma.
2. Anaemia: Can be caused by zidovudine drug
3. Fanconi syndrome: Disease of which glucose, amino acids, phosphate and bicarbonate are passed into the urine rather being reabsorbed
4. Jaundice and liver failure: Overdose and metabolism of drugs may cause the liver to die
5. Kidney stones and renal failure: ART may affect overall function of the kidneys
6. Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas which may lead to pancreatic cancer
7. Stevens-Johnson syndrome: A rare and life-threatening condition in which skin separates from the body
8. Cardiovascular disease and heart attack: ART may increase risk of heart attack and related diseases
9. Intracranial haemorrhage: Bleeding within the skull
10. Migraines: Massive headaches
Unfortunately, some cases revealed evidences of anti-retroviral drug resistance which causes HIV to progress and lead patients to take mega-HAART or salvage therapy. Salvage therapy adds more drugs on the standard ART that also brings more side effects, discomfort and costs without guaranteed survival.
Both drug takers and non-takers are at risk. And if the disease continues to spread through unprotected sexual activities and unhealthy lifestyle, more people than expected might be endangered.
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