Understanding HIV-Related Pill Aversion as a Distinct Barrier to Medication Adherence

Robin M. Dorman*, Sarah H. Sutton, Lynn M. Yee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Pill aversion, defined as difficulty swallowing pills without identifiable medical cause, is a poorly characterized barrier to sustained viral suppression for many HIV-infected persons. We aimed to quantify the frequency of self-reported pill aversion, characterize its symptoms, and measure the association between self-reported pill aversion and missing antiretroviral doses. This is a prospective, observational, exploratory survey study of English-speaking persons living with HIV (PLHIV) at a single urban tertiary outpatient clinic. Participants completed anonymous questionnaires about their experiences of swallowing antiretroviral pills. The primary outcome was skipping pills due to pill aversion symptoms. Of 384 participants, a quarter (25.5%) skipped pills due to pill aversion symptoms. Younger age, being Non-Hispanic Black or Hispanic, not being married or partnered, having public insurance, not being employed, having less than a college education, and having a mental health diagnosis were associated with skipping pills due to pill aversion. On multivariable regression analyses, PLHIV who skipped pills were more likely to report symptoms of gagging, nausea at the time of swallowing, and heavy feeling in the stomach, as well as being bothered by the taste, smell, and size of the pills. PLHIV who skipped pills were also more likely to report negative and fear-based emotions about pill-taking than PLHIV who did not skip pills due to pill aversion. HIV-related pill aversion may represent a significant and frequent barrier to adherence in an adult HIV population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)294-303
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2019


  • Adherence
  • conditioning
  • human immunodeficiency virus
  • pill aversion
  • pill taking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Applied Psychology


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