Drug information

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Brand Name:
Retrovir
Other Names:
AZT, ZDV, azidothymidine
Drug Class:
Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitor (NRTIs)
Drug Image(s): (Click to enlarge)
 
What are the most important things to know about zidovudine? What are the most important things to know about zidovudine?

What are the most important things to know about zidovudine?

Zidovudine can cause serious, life-threatening side effects. These include severe skin rash and allergic reactions, a buildup of lactic acid in the blood (lactic acidosis), liver problems, muscle disease (myopathy), and blood disorders, such as a very low number of red blood cells (severe anemia) or lower than normal number of white blood cells (neutropenia).

Contact your health care provider right away if you develop a rash while taking zidovudine. Stop taking zidovudine and get medical help right away if you develop a rash with any of the following symptoms:
  • General ill feeling
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Muscle or joint aches
  • Fever
  • Blistering or peeling skin
  • Blisters or sores in your mouth
  • Redness or swelling of the eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Swelling of your face, lips, mouth, tongue, or throat
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
Contact your health care provider right away if you have any of the following symptoms that could be signs of lactic acidosis:
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Unusual muscle pain
  • Shortness of breath or fast breathing
  • Stomach pain with nausea and vomiting
  • Cold or blue hands and feet
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fast or abnormal heartbeat

Contact your health care provider right away if you have any of the following symptoms that could be signs of liver problems: 

  • Yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Light-colored bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite for several days or longer
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain, aching, or tenderness on the right side of your stomach area
  • Itching

Zidovudine may cause myopathy, especially when used for a long time. Contact your health care provider if you develop tiredness, muscle pain, or weakness. 

Zidovudine can cause blood disorders such as very low number of red blood cells (severe anemia) or lower than normal number of white blood cells (neutropenia). Keep all appointments to have your blood count checked while you're taking zidovudine.

Contact your health care provider right away if you have any of the following symptoms of severe anemia or neutropenia:
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Fever, chills, or other symptoms of infection
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • Pale skin

Worsening of liver disease (sometimes resulting in death) has occurred in people with both HIV and hepatitis C virus infection (HCV) who were taking HIV medicines and interferon with or without ribavirin. If you are taking zidovudine as well as interferon with or without ribavirin and you experience side effects, tell your health care provider.

While taking zidovudine, it is important to keep all of your appointments with your health care provider.

What is zidovudine?What is zidovudine?

What is zidovudine?

Zidovudine is a prescription medicine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the following uses:

  • To treat HIV infection in adults, children, and infants. When zidovudine is used to treat HIV infection, the medicine is always used in combination with other HIV medicines.
  • To prevent mother-to-child transmission (perinatal transmission) of HIV. When used to prevent mother-to-child transmission, zidovudine is given to women with HIV during pregnancy and childbirth and to their infants after birth. 

For more information on the use of zidovudine in people with HIV, please refer to the Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in Adults and Adolescents Living with HIV and the Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in Pediatric HIV Infection

For more information on the use of zidovudine to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, please refer to the Recommendations for the Use of Antiretroviral Drugs in Pregnant Women with HIV Infection and Interventions to Reduce Perinatal HIV Transmission in the United States

HIV medicines can’t cure HIV/AIDS, but taking HIV medicines every day helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. HIV medicines also reduce the risk of HIV transmission. If you are taking HIV medicines, don't cut down on, skip, or stop taking them unless your health care provider tells you to.

Zidovudine may also be used to treat some conditions associated with human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) infection in people with HIV. For more information, please refer to the HHV-8 section of the Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in Adults and Adolescents with HIV.

What should I tell my health care provider before taking zidovudine?What should I tell my health care provider before taking zidovudine?

What should I tell my health care provider before taking zidovudine?

Before using zidovudine, tell your health care provider:

  • If you are allergic to zidovudine, latex, or any other medicines.
  • If you have ever had liver or kidney disease.
  • If you have ever had any blood disorders, such as anemia or neutropenia.
  • If you have ever had myopathy (muscle disease).
  • If you have any other medical conditions.
  • If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Talk to your health care provider about the risks and benefits of taking zidovudine during pregnancy. For more information on the use of zidovudine during pregnancy, please refer to the Recommendations for the Use of Antiretroviral Drugs in Pregnant Women with HIV Infection and Interventions to Reduce Perinatal HIV Transmission in the United States
  • If you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. For women with HIV in the United States, the Guideline does not recommend breastfeeding. Before your baby is born, or if you are already breastfeeding, talk to your health care provider to discuss alternative options for feeding your baby. 
  • If you are using hormone-based birth control (such as pills, implants, or vaginal rings). For more information about using birth control and HIV medicines at the same time, view the HIVinfo HIV and Birth Control infographic.
  • About other prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Zidovudine may affect the way other medicines or products work, and other medicines or products may affect how zidovudine works. Using zidovudine together with certain medicines or products may cause serious, life-threatening side effects.
How should I take zidovudine?How should I take zidovudine?

How should I use zidovudine?

Zidovudine (brand name: Retrovir) comes in the following forms and strengths:

  • 300-mg tablets
  • 100-mg capsules
  • 10-mg/mL oral solution
  • 200-mg/20-mL single-use vials for intravenous (IV) injection

Use zidovudine according to your health care provider’s instructions.

Take zidovudine tablets, capsules, or oral solution by mouth with or without food.

If giving zidovudine oral solution to a newborn baby, make sure to use the correct-sized syringe to measure the dose accurately. 

Zidovudine injection is given by IV infusion. Use zidovudine injection exactly as your health care provider has instructed. If you do not understand how to use zidovudine injection, ask your health care provider.

If you use too much zidovudine, contact your health care provider or local poison control center (1-800-222-1222) right away, or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.

For more information on how to use zidovudine, see the FDA drug labels for zidovudine tablets and zidovudine capsules, oral solution, and solution for IV injection.

What should I do if I forget a dose?What should I do if I forget a dose?

What should I do if I forget a dose?

If you miss a dose of zidovudine, take or inject the missed dose as soon as you remember it. But if it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and just take or inject your next dose at the regular time. Do not take or inject two doses at the same time to make up for a missed dose.

What side effects can zidovudine cause?What side effects can zidovudine cause?

What side effects can zidovudine cause?

Zidovudine may cause side effects. Some side effects of zidovudine can be serious as noted above. Many side effects from HIV medicines, such as nausea or occasional dizziness, are manageable. See the HIVinfo fact sheet on HIV Medicines and Side Effects for more information.

Other possible side effects of zidovudine include:
  • Changes in your immune system (called immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome or IRIS). IRIS is a condition that sometimes occurs when the immune system begins to recover after treatment with an HIV medicine. As the immune system gets stronger, it may have an increased response to a previously hidden infection.
  • Loss of body fat (lipoatrophy).

Tell your health care provider if you have any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away.

These are not all the possible side effects of zidovudine. To learn more about possible side effects of zidovudine, read the drug label or package insert or talk to your health care provider or pharmacist.

You can report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 (1-800-332-1088) or online.

How should zidovudine be stored?How should zidovudine be stored?

How should zidovudine be stored?

  • Store zidovudine tablets at room temperature, 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C).
  • Store zidovudine capsules and oral solution between 59°F and 77°F (15°C to 25°C). Protect zidovudine capsules from moisture.
  • Store vials of zidovudine for IV injection between 59°F and 77°F (15°C to 25°C) and protect them from light. Once zidovudine for IV injection is diluted, use the solution within 8 hours if stored at 77°F (25°C) or within 24 hours if refrigerated at 36°F to 46°F (2°C to 8°C).
  • Keep zidovudine in the container that it came in and keep the container tightly closed.
  • Do not use zidovudine if the original seal over the container opening is broken or missing.
  • Throw away zidovudine that is no longer needed or expired (out of date). Follow FDA guidelines on how to safely dispose of unused medicine. 
  • Keep zidovudine and all medicines out of reach of children.
Where can I find more information about zidovudine?Where can I find more information about zidovudine?

Where can I find more information about zidovudine?

More information about zidovudine is available:

Manufacturer Information

ViiV Healthcare

Main number: 877-844-8872
Patient assistance (ViiV Connect): 844-588-3288

The above Patient Version drug summary is based on the following FDA label(s): Capsule, oral solution, injection (solution); Tablet.

 

Last Reviewed: January 29, 2021