Medications Increase Life Expectancy for HIV

The Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy Breakthrough

woman taking medicine
Sam Edwards/iStockphoto

Life expectancy for someone diagnosed with HIV used to be dire, but that was years ago. Ever since the development of a class of medications for HIV called "antiretroviral therapy" or "highly active antiretroviral therapy" (HAART), people with HIV are living longer than ever before. 

Antiretroviral therapy is the use of anti-HIV drugs to treat the virus. The standard treatment, which is a combination of at least three drugs that suppress the replication of the virus, has come to be known as highly active antiretroviral therapy.

By using three drugs, there is a lower likelihood that the virus will develop resistance.

If HAART medication is taken early and correctly, life expectancy can increase by about 30 to 40 years from what it was in the past. This increase in life expectancy has occurred in the past decade, meaning that people living with HIV/AIDS, in countries where the HAART treatment is available, can expect to live roughly two-thirds of a normal life span if they take HAART medication correctly. In addition, people with HIV/AIDs can also add years to their lives by eating well, exercising, and not smoking.

In the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it would have seemed inconceivable to imagine people with the virus to live a long and normal life. But since the development of antiretroviral drugs, providing medical care for an aging HIV/AIDS population has become more of a focus. 

The aging population of patients is beginning to force medical specialists to rethink how they deliver care.

In the past, opportunistic infections were the primary concern for people living with the disease. Now, issues such as the long-term effects of HIV and antiretroviral medications are becoming of greater concern.

For more information about treating HIV/AIDS, read:


The Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration. Life expectancy of individuals on combination antiretroviral therapy in high-income countries: a collaborative analysis of 14 cohort studies. The Lancet, Volume 372, Issue 9635, Pages 293-299, 26 July 2008.

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Antiretroviral therapy.