Exploring the relationship between medication and wellbeing

As we grow older, it’s more likely that we’ll need to take multiple medications to manage different health conditions (comorbidities) that we develop with age. However, taking multiple medications shouldn’t impact quality of life (QoL).

People ageing with HIV experience many of the same health-related problems as the general population but are at higher risk of certain chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis.1 This means they are more likely to have to take additional medication along with their HIV therapy.

People living with HIV shared their experiences of taking multiple medications or ‘polypharmacy’ – defined as taking five or more pills a day or taking medicines for five or more health conditions.

Tom discusses his concerns about the long-term effects of medication

Key findings

It is important for people living with HIV to plan ahead with their healthcare teams to ensure their evolving treatment needs are met.

It can be helpful when healthcare teams take all health conditions into consideration.

It is important for healthcare teams to encourage people living with HIV to discuss any concerns they have about their QoL, as well as current and future treatment needs.

We need to encourage people living with HIV to aspire to treatments that not only keep the virus undetectable and minimise side effects, but also support overall wellbeing and quality of life, making HIV a smaller part of their lives.

Benjamin Young,
Head, Global Medical Directors at ViiV Healthcare

Study results

Multiple medications and long-term health

Thanks to advances in HIV treatment, the majority of people living with HIV who have access to antiretroviral treatment (ART) now live longer. This also makes the likelihood of polypharmacy more common.

Of the people living with HIV in the Positive Perspectives study:

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were taking five or more pills a day or taking medicines for five or more health conditions<sup>2</sup>

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‌were taking at least one non-HIV pill daily<sup>2</sup>

 

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‌were worried about the long-term effects of HIV medicines<sup>2</sup>

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were concerned about taking more medicines as they grow older<sup>2</sup>

*Total number of participants is 2,112 as the figures were calculated before the inclusion of additional data from Russia and South Africa.

Overall health and treatment satisfaction

After controlling for comorbidities, the study results show a strong link between polypharmacy and poorer QoL. Even among people who said that their HIV was virologically-controlled, taking multiple medications was still linked to poorer health and treatment satisfaction.2

People living with HIV reporting overall good health:

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Taking multiple medications<sup>2</sup>

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Not taking multiple medications regardless of reported virologic control<sup>2</sup>

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were open to the idea of taking an HIV treatment with fewer medicines (as long as their viral load remains suppressed)<sup>2</sup>

*Total number of participants is 2,112 as the figures were calculated before the inclusion of additional data from Russia and South Africa.

Evolving treatment priorities

Treatment priorities, just like treatment needs, evolve over time. As HIV is a life-long condition, the study participants were asked about how their attitudes to treatment have changed.

People who had previously changed their HIV treatment shared their reasons for switching:

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To reduce the severity and frequency of side effects<sup>2</sup>

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To reduce the number of pills they take<sup>2</sup>

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To reduce the number of medicines they take<sup>2</sup>

People who had been diagnosed more than two years ago (1,841) were asked to compare their treatment priorities when they started HIV therapy to today.

Here are the three treatment priorities with the largest increase in importance over time:

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Minimising the long-term impact of HIV treatment<sup>2</sup>

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Keeping the number of medicines in the HIV treatment to a minimum<sup>2</sup>

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Ensuring minimal side effects<sup>2</sup>

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‌Importance when starting ART

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‌Importance today

*Total number of participants is 2,112 as the figures were calculated before the inclusion of additional data from Russia and South Africa.

Download the results report

If you would like to find out more about polypharmacy and health-related QoL, you can download the full results report here.

Download

  • References

    1. Burki T. Lancet HIV. 2019;6:e816–e817.
    2. Okoli C, et al. Prev Chronic Dis. 2020;17:190359.