Generic Name: zidovudine, Oral tablet

Retrovir

All Brands

  • Retrovir
SECTION 1 of 5

Highlights for zidovudine

Oral tablet
1

Retrovir is used to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in adults and children at least 4 weeks old.

2

The adult dose ranges from 200 mg to 300 mg taken 2 to 3 times a day.

3

Serious side effects can include low iron (anemia), signs of which include fatigue and paleness. It may also cause low white blood cell count, which may make you more likely to get infections.

4

Retrovir can cause lactic acidosis or liver disease. Symptoms include nausea, weakness, swelling of your liver, dark urine, or yellowing skin.

5

If you don’t take Retrovir as prescribed, you risk making your HIV infection worse.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

FDA Warning

Retrovir has a Black Box Warning. This is the most serious warning from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Though the medication can still be sold and used, a black box warning alerts doctors and patients to potentially dangerous effects.

Warning: Risk of blood (hematologic) toxicity, muscle disease (myopathy), and lactic acidosis.

Blood toxicity: Retrovir tablets have caused decreases in white blood cells (cells that fight infection) and severe anemia, which is a decrease in your red blood cell count. Symptoms include:

  • feeling weak
  • feeling tired
  • paleness
  • feeling cold
  • increased heart rate

These effects are more likely to occur if you have advanced HIV disease.

Muscle disease: Long-term use of Retrovir can cause muscle disease (myopathy). Symptoms include:

  • muscle weakness
  • muscle pain

Lactic acidosis: Lactic acidosis and liver enlargement are also possible. Lactic acidosis occurs when lactic acid builds up in the blood and blood oxygen decreases. This can cause nausea and weakness due to an increased amount of carbon dioxide in the blood stream. Liver enlargement can increase the risk of lactic acidosis. If you have swelling or enlargement of your abdomen (possible signs of liver enlargement) and symptoms of lactic acidosis, see a doctor right away.

Immune reconstitution syndrome

In this disease, your recovering immune system causes infections you’ve had in the past to return. Examples of past infections include fungal infections, pneumonia, or tuberculosis. Your doctor may need to treat the old infection if this happens.

Drug Features

Retrovir is a prescription drug. It’s available in these forms: oral capsule, oral tablet, oral syrup, and injection.

Retrovir may be used as part of a combination therapy. That means you need to take it with other drugs.

Retrovir is available in its generic form. Generic drugs usually cost less. In some cases they may not be available in every strength or form as the brand. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if the generic will work for you.

Why It's Used

Retrovir is used in combination with at least two other antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infection. Retrovir doesn’t cure HIV, but it may help to control it.

More Details

How It Works

Retrovir is a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI). This type of medication blocks the effectiveness of an enzyme present in HIV known as reverse transcriptase.

More Details

Why It's Used

Retrovir is used in combination with at least two other antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infection. Retrovir doesn’t cure HIV, but it may help to control it.

Retrovir is approved to treat HIV in adults and children 4 weeks of age and older. The drug is also used to prevent the transfer of HIV infection from mother to baby before and during birth.

How It Works

Retrovir is a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI). This type of medication blocks the effectiveness of an enzyme present in HIV known as reverse transcriptase. HIV needs this enzyme to replicate in your body. When the enzyme is blocked, HIV can’t replicate as easily.

SECTION 2 of 5

zidovudine Side Effects

Oral tablet

Most Common Side Effects

The most common side effects that occur with Retrovir include:

  • loss of appetite

  • changes in the distribution of body fat, such as an increasing amount of fat on your neck

  • constipation

  • cough

  • diarrhea

  • headache

  • malaise or fatigue

  • nausea

  • mild skin rashes

  • vomiting

Serious Side Effects

If you experience any of these serious side effects, call your doctor right away. If your symptoms are potentially life threatening, or if you think you’re experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.

  • lactic acidosis and liver enlargement. Symptoms may include nausea and weakness.
  • liver problems. Symptoms may include:

    • swelling or enlargement of your abdomen area
    • dark urine
    • loss of appetite
    • fatigue
    • jaundice or yellowing skin
    • nausea
    • tenderness in your stomach area
  • severe anemia. Symptoms may include:

    • feeling weak
    • feeling tired
    • paleness
    • feeling cold
    • increased heart rate
  • muscle disease (myopathy). Symptoms may include weakness and pain in your muscles

  • symptoms of infection, including fungal infection, pneumonia, or tuberculosis. These may indicate immune reconstitution syndrome (IRS). In IRS, your improved immune system makes infections you’ve had in the past come back again. Your doctor may need to treat the old infection if this happens.

  • decreased white blood cells. Symptoms may include:

    • weakness
    • tiredness
    • increased number of new infections.
Pharmacist's Advice
Healthline Pharmacist Editorial Team

Retrovir does not cause drowsiness.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible side effects. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always discuss possible side effects with a healthcare provider who knows your medical history.
SECTION 3 of 5

zidovudine May Interact with Other Medications

Oral tablet

Retrovir can interact with other medications, herbs, or vitamins you might be taking. That’s why your doctor should manage all of your medications carefully. If you’re curious about how this drug might interact with something else you’re taking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Note: You can reduce your chances of drug interactions by having all of your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. That way, a pharmacist can check for possible drug interactions.

Medications That Might Interact with This Drug

Chemotherapy drugs
  • doxorubicin (Doxil), a chemotherapy drug used to fight cancer

Blood disease, reduced bone marrow, and cancer drugs
  • ganciclovir (Zirgan, Vitrasert)
  • interferon alfa (Multiferon)
  • ribavirin (Copegus, Rebetol, Vilona, Virazole)

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) drug
  • stavudine (Zerit)

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs interact differently in each person, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible interactions. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always speak with your healthcare provider about possible interactions with all prescription drugs, vitamins, herbs and supplements, and over-the-counter drugs that you are taking.

People with kidney disease

If you have kidney disease, your kidneys may not filter out Retrovir quickly enough. Your doctor may decrease the dose so that the drug doesn’t build up in your body.

People with liver disease

If you have liver disease, the drug can build up in your body and cause more side effects. Your doctor will decide if Retrovir is right for you and adjust your dose to best suit you. Your doctor may check your liver function to determine how well your liver will process the drug.

Pregnant women

Retrovir is a pregnancy category C drug. This means that:

  1. Research in animals has shown adverse effects to the fetus when the mother takes the drug.
  2. There have been a few studies done in humans that did not show an increase in birth defects in babies born to mothers who have taken Retrovir during pregnancy.

Retrovir is used in pregnancy to help prevent passing HIV from the mother to the child. According to a clinical trial cited in the drug package insert, treating women with Retrovir during pregnancy greatly reduced the transmission of HIV to the baby. When pregnant women with HIV weren’t treated, 24.9% of the babies born were HIV positive. When pregnant women with HIV were treated with Retrovir, 7.8% of the babies born were HIV positive.

If you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant and have HIV, talk to your doctor about Retrovir as early in the pregnancy as possible.

Women who are nursing

Women shouldn’t breastfeed while taking Retrovir. The drug passes through breast milk. If it reaches the baby, it could cause the baby to experience side effects.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women with HIV don’t breastfeed in order to avoid passing HIV through breast milk.

For Children

Children 4 weeks old and older are sometimes treated with Retrovir. Their dose is based on body weight. Your doctor will determine your child’s dose.

When to call the doctor

See your doctor right away if you have signs that your HIV is getting worse. These may include:

  • increased fever
  • headache
  • muscle ache
  • sore throat
  • swollen lymph glands (firm nodules or areas of tenderness in the neck, groin, under the arms, or above the collar bone)
  • night sweats

If you experience any of these symptoms, your doctor may change or adjust your medication.

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How to Take zidovudine (Dosage)

Oral tablet

All possible dosages and forms may not be included here. Your dose, form, and how often you take it will depend on:

  • your age
  • the condition being treated
  • how severe your condition is
  • other medical conditions you have
  • how you react to the first dose

What Are You Taking This Medication For?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Brand: Retrovir

Form: Oral capsule
Strength: 100 mg
Form: Oral tablet
Strength: 300 mg
Form: Oral syrup
Strength: 50 mg/mL
Adult Dosage (ages 18-64 years)

200 mg to 300 mg taken 2 to 3 times each day. If you take it twice a day, take your doses 12 hours apart. If you take it three times a day, take your doses eight hours apart.

Child Dosage (ages 4 weeks [8.8 pounds] to 17 years)

Your child’s doctor will calculate the dose of Retrovir for your child based on their body weight. The child’s dose will never exceed the adult dose.

Senior Dosage (ages 65 years and older)

There are no specific recommendations for senior dosing. Older adults may process drugs more slowly. A normal adult dose may cause levels of the drug to be higher than normal. If you’re a senior, you may need a lower dose or you may need a different schedule.

Special considerations

Kidney Disease: If you have kidney disease, your kidneys may not filter out Retrovir quickly enough. Your doctor may decrease your dose so that the drug doesn’t build up in your body. Your dose may be decreased based on measurements of your kidney function.

Liver Disease: If you have liver disease, the drug may build up in your body and cause more side effects. Your doctor may adjust your dose. They may check your liver function to determine how well your liver can process the drug.

HIV-Positive Pregnant Women: If you’re pregnant and HIV positive, your doctor may decide to give you a special dose of Retrovir to help prevent passing HIV to your baby. The drug is given by tablet several times a day and may be started as early as the 14th week of pregnancy. When you go into labor, you’ll be changed to an intravenous (IV) dose of Retrovir until the baby is born and the umbilical cord is clamped. After your baby is born, your baby may be treated with Retrovir.

If you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about drug treatment to help prevent passing HIV to your baby.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this list includes all possible dosages. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about dosages that are right for you.
Pharmacist's Advice
Healthline Pharmacist Editorial Team

Keeping HIV under control requires long-term treatment and long-term effort. There can be very serious health consequences if you don’t take this drug exactly how your doctor tells you.

If You Stop Taking It or Miss a Dose

If you stop taking this medication or miss doses, your HIV can become worse. You may have many more serious infections and HIV-related problems.

If You Don’t Take It on Schedule

Taking this drug at the same time every day increases your ability to keep the virus under control. If you don’t, you risk worsened infection.

What To Do if You Miss a Dose

If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you can. Retrovir should be taken every 8 to 12 hours. If it’s just an hour or two until your next dose, wait and take a single dose at the usual time.

Take just one dose at a time. Never try to catch up by taking two doses at once. This could result in toxic side effects.

How Can I Tell if the Drug Is Working?

To see how well your treatment is working, your doctor will check your:

  • virus count. A virus count measures the number of copies of the HIV virus in your body.
  • CD4 count. A CD4 count measures the amount of CD4 cells in your body. CD4 cells are white blood cells that fight infection. An increased CD4 count is a sign that your HIV treatment is working.

Retrovir is a long-term drug treatment.

Don’t crush the Retrovir tablet

If you can’t swallow the tablets, ask your doctor about the syrup form.

Store this drug at room temperature: 68–77°F (20–25°C)

Note: Be careful of moist environments, including bathrooms. To keep drugs away from moisture, store them somewhere other than your bathroom and any other damp location.

Clinical Monitoring

To see how well your treatment is working, your doctor will check your:

  • virus count. A virus count measures the number of copies of the HIV virus in your body.
  • CD4 count. A CD4 count measures the amount of CD4 cells in your body. CD4 cells are white blood cells that fight infection. An increased CD4 count is a sign that your HIV treatment is working.

Not every pharmacy stocks this drug, so call ahead

If you only need a few tablets or capsules, you should call and ask if your pharmacy dispenses only a small number of tablets or capsules. Some pharmacies can't dispense only part of a bottle.

This drug is often available from specialty pharmacies through your insurance plan. These pharmacies operate like mail order pharmacies and ship the drug to you.

In larger cities, there will often be HIV pharmacies where you can have your prescriptions filled. Ask your doctor if there's an HIV pharmacy in your area.

Insurance

Some insurance companies will require a prior authorization before they will pay for this drug. Your doctor may have to do some paperwork, which can delay treatment for a week or two.

Are There Any Alternatives?

There are many drugs and combinations that can treat HIV. Some may be more suitable for you than others. Talk to your doctor about possible alternatives.

What does the pill look like?

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How Much Does zidovudine Cost?

Oral tablet
We've partnered with GoodRX so you can compare prices and save money on your next prescription. Check out the lowest cash prices below and enter your zip code to find the best deal near you.

Compare prices and save money on your next refill!

Lowest price for zidovudine

Walgreens $143.58
Rite-Aid $152.90
Publix $249.32
These represent the lowest cash prices for zidovudine and may be lower than your insurance.

Find the lowest prices of zidovudine near you

These represent the lowest cash prices for zidovudine and may be lower than your insurance.

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Content developed in collaboration with Susan J. Bliss, RPh, MBA

Medically reviewed by Stacey Boudreaux, PharmD and Alan Carter, PharmD on February 9, 2015

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Disclaimer: Healthline has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up-to-date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or other healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.

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