Daily Health

Can I Stop Taking PrEP At Any Time? 

PrEP can protect people from HIV even if they have unprotected sex. However, if you use PrEP, you may decide that it's no longer right for you.

In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about what happens when you quit PrEP, and what you should factor into your decision-making. 

What is PrEP?

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. When taken correctly, PrEP is an effective oral medication that can reduce your chances of getting HIV from unprotected sex.

How does PrEP work?

PrEP works by preventing HIV from taking hold. By interfering with the process that leads to permanent infection, PrEP prevents HIV from replicating in the body's immune cells. 

PrEP is usually prescribed as an oral medication. It can be used on-demand when sexual intercourse is anticipated or as an ongoing daily medication. If it is used on-demand before sexual intercourse, it is typically taken as two pills between 2-24 hours before intercourse, followed by one pill per day until two days after intercourse.

Can I stop taking PrEP at any time?

Yes, you can stop taking PrEP at any time. However, it's important to know that when you stop taking PrEP, you can become HIV positive if exposed to the virus. This means that if you think you may engage in high-risk sexual behaviour in the future, it's important to use a condom or take on-demand PrEP to limit the risk of infection. 

How do I stop taking PrEP safely?

To stop taking PrEP safely, continue taking it for 7-10 days after your last HIV exposure. This limits the likelihood of becoming infected from that exposure. During this time, continue taking PrEP at the same time that you normally would. If you plan to stop taking PrEP, discuss your decision with your healthcare practitioner to ensure it's the right choice for you. 

How long can you stop PrEP?

You can stop PrEP for as long as is appropriate for your situation. If you are no longer at risk of being exposed to HIV because you are in a monogamous relationship with a partner who either is not HIV positive or is virally suppressed, for example, you may not feel the need to stay on PrEP. 

If you stop PrEP and decide to use it again, note that maximum efficacy is reached 7 days after beginning. 

What happens to your body when you stop taking PrEP?

You should not notice any side effects or symptoms when you stop taking PrEP. Once you are no longer taking PrEP, exposure to HIV can result in the virus taking hold, so you will no longer be protected. In the event of exposure when you are not on PrEP, PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, it can be a very effective way of avoiding infection, provided it is started within 72 hours. 

Key takeaways

You can stop taking PrEP at any time, but it is important to remember that once you stop, you can become HIV-positive if exposed.  If you stop taking PrEP and think you might be exposed to HIV again, using PrEP "on-demand" by taking two pills the day before exposure and one pill on each subsequent day can prevent infection. Alternatively, having PEP on hand can also be effective.

Frequently asked questions

What happens when you quit PrEP?

When you quit PrEP, you are unlikely to experience any side effects. However, you will no longer be protected against HIV, so it's important to avoid exposure and to have a plan in the event of exposure. On-demand PrEP and PEP can both be effective.

How long after exposure can I stop PrEP?

Continuing PrEP for 7-10 days after exposure is generally recommended. Check with your healthcare practitioner to determine how long after exposure you can stop PrEP.

Do you have to take PrEP forever?

You don't have to take PrEP forever unless you are continually exposed to HIV. If you know you will be exposed, you can take two PrEP pills the day before exposure and one per day until one day after the exposure. If you were unexpectedly exposed, PEP can be taken for one month as an emergency measure.

Why do people refuse to take PrEP?

 People often refuse to take PrEP because they don't see themselves as being at risk for HIV. They may also not like the idea of having to take medication every day, or they may be concerned about side effects.

Felix Team
Updated on:
April 19, 2023
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sarah Lasuta
Family Physician, MD, CCFP

The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Health Guide, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare practitioner.

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