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HIV Meds in Different Time Zones: Taking Pills While Traveling

Written and medically reviewed by Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD
Posted on May 7, 2024

If you take antiretroviral therapy (ART) to treat HIV, you may wonder how to manage your medications when you travel, especially when it involves crossing different time zones. Whether you’re traveling for work or fun, it’s crucial to stay on top of your medication schedule. Understanding how to adjust your HIV medication schedule across different time zones ensures your treatment remains effective, allowing you to enjoy your adventures worry-free.

Understanding the Impact of Travel on HIV Medications

Sticking closely to your HIV treatment schedule is key to managing the virus effectively. HIV drugs work best when kept at consistent levels in your bloodstream. This helps suppress your viral load and reduces your chance of developing drug resistance. However, traveling across time zones can disrupt this balance, potentially impacting the effectiveness of your treatment.

One myHIVteam member asked, “I travel a lot and am always concerned about not taking my meds on time when I travel. I take my medication every night at 11 p.m. EST. … Should I take it on my normal routine or follow what time wherever my location is?”

Preparing for Travel With HIV Medications

There are few steps you should take before traveling to ensure you can stay on top of your treatment schedule.

Consult Your Health Care Provider

Before you pack your bags, especially for international travel, arrange to speak with your health care provider. Having this conversation with your provider at least four to six weeks prior to your air travel provides the ideal time for planning. Discuss how you can adjust your medication schedule to the new time zone. This proactive step is crucial to maintaining your health while away from home.

Gather Your Documentation

Always carry a detailed list of your medications, including prescriptions. This is not only helpful in emergencies, but also assists in clearing customs checks without significant delays, particularly in countries with strict drug import regulations.

Additionally, some countries have certain restrictions for those who are HIV-positive, with either requirements to disclose your status or a complete entry ban. It’s important to research your destination and its documentation requirements prior to departure.

Verify the legality of your medications in your destination country, as some countries have specific restrictions or require documentation for certain drugs.

Pack Smart

Keep your medication in your carry-on luggage to avoid the risk of lost checked baggage. Also, carry more than the required amount of medication for the trip in case of unexpected travel delays.

Managing Medication Across Time Zones

The strategy for managing your medication depends on the length of your trip and the number of time zones crossed. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any specific questions you have.

Short Trips

For trips lasting a few days, it may be simpler to keep taking your medication according to your home time zone. This avoids the confusion of adjusting to a new schedule for a short period.

Longer Stays

For extended travel, gradually adjust the timing of your medication to align with the local time at your destination. Shift your medication time by an hour or two each day starting a few days before your trip until you match the destination’s local time.

If traveling east, start taking your medication earlier each day a few days before you leave. If heading west, take it later each day.

Once-Daily Medication

These recommendations apply to those who take medication only once a day and are traveling to a time zone with a difference of at least eight hours:

  • Before your flight, postpone your dose until a few hours before your departure.
  • Take your next dose after you land.
  • Resume your normal dosing schedule according to the local time. For instance, if you usually take your medication with breakfast, continue this during your trip.

For example, if you generally take your medication in the morning and your flight is in the evening, skip the morning dose. Instead, take it in the afternoon or early evening, right before or just after your flight lands. The next morning, in your new location, continue with your regular morning dose.

Note on efavirenz (sold under the brand name Sustiva): If you experience side effects such as anxiety or mood changes with efavirenz, consider delaying your dose to avoid discomfort while traveling. You can safely delay taking your medication for a few hours.

Twice-Daily Medication

These recommendations apply to those who take medication two times a day and are traveling to a time zone with a difference of at least eight hours:

  • Before the flight, delay your dose until a few hours before the flight.
  • If the flight is longer than 12 hours, take another dose at a convenient time during the flight.
  • Take your next scheduled dose after landing.
  • Proceed with your usual dosing schedule, adjusted to the local time of your destination.

Monitoring and Adjusting on the Go

Once at your destination, stick to your medication schedule. Consistency is key once you’ve adjusted to the new time zone. Continue taking your medication at scheduled times every day. Use pill organizers and set reminders on your phone or another device to help manage your medication schedule in the new time zone.

It’s also important to monitor your health while you’re traveling. Keep track of how you feel throughout your trip. Note any new symptoms or side effects and communicate them to a health care professional, either locally or back home.

Stay hydrated and rested to the best of your ability while traveling. Travel can be taxing on your body. Ensure you stay hydrated and get enough rest, as fatigue and dehydration can impact how your body processes medications.

Enjoying Travel Without Compromise

Traveling with HIV doesn’t mean you have to limit your dreams of global adventures. With the right preparations and a thorough understanding of how to manage your medication across different time zones, you can enjoy your travels safely. Adapting your medication regimen effectively to your travel schedule will help maintain your health and allow you to make the most of your travels, stress-free.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myHIVteam, the social network for people with HIV and their loved ones, more than 41,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with HIV.

Are planning a trip and wondering how to deal with time zones and your HIV medications? Do you have any travel tips for others? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on May 7, 2024
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Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD received her Doctor of Pharmacy from Pacific University School of Pharmacy in Portland, Oregon, and went on to complete a one-year postgraduate residency at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida. Learn more about her here.

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