Written by Rachel Nall | Published on October 24, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on October 24, 2013

What Is Retrovir?

Brand Name: Retrovir
Generic Name: Zidovudine, AZT, ZDV, azidothymidine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the medication Retrovir for the treatment of HIV. It can be used by adults and children over the age of four weeks. The medication is also FDA-approved to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV during pregnancy and birth. However, the medication does not guarantee that the virus will not be transmitted. When used as an HIV treatment, Retrovir is used in combination with other medications.

Read the FDA description of Retrovir.

What Does Retrovir Do?

Retrovir belongs to a class of medications known as nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs). These medications block the effectiveness of an enzyme present in HIV known as reverse transcriptase. As a result, HIV cannot replicate as easily. Retrovir is not a cure for HIV.

Retrovir should be taken with food. The medication is also available in intravenous or IV preparation.

This information is a summary. Before starting this medication, discuss questions with your healthcare provider and make sure you understand dosage instructions.

What Should I Tell My Doctor Before Starting Retrovir?

Tell your doctor if you:

  • have an allergy to Retrovir or other medications
  • are breastfeeding or planning on breastfeeding
  • are pregnant or are thinking of becoming pregnant
  • have any diseases related to muscles and muscle swelling
  • have been diagnosed with alcoholism or have a history of alcohol abuse
  • have been diagnosed with blood-related conditions, such as anemia or hemophilia
  • have been diagnosed with liver or kidney disease

What Medications May Interact with Retrovir?

Always tell your physician about any prescription medications or herbal remedies you are taking.

Medications that can adversely interact with Retrovir include:

  • doxorubicin (Doxil)
  • hematologic, bone marrow suppressive, and/or cytotoxic agents, including ganciclovir (Zirgan, Vitrasert), interferon alfa (Multiferon), and ribavirin (Copegus, Rebetol, Vilona, Virazole)
  • stavudine (Zerit)

Possible Side Effects of Retrovir

The following are severe and emergent side effects of Retrovir. Report to your medical provider immediately if you experience:

  • blood disorders, such as shortness of breath, headache, pale skin, chest pain, headache, or coldness in the hands or feet
  • hepatotoxicity, such as hepatomegaly with steatosis, that affects your liver functioning; symptoms of this condition include dark urine, decrease in appetite, fatigue, jaundice or yellowing skin, nausea, and tenderness over the liver
  • immune reconstitution syndrome, a condition that causes an inflammatory response in viruses in the blood, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis
  • lactic acidosis, a condition that causes excess amounts of acid to build up in your blood; this causes symptoms such as weakness, tiredness, difficulty breathing, stomach pain, feeling cold, or feeling dizzy
  • worsening of hepatitis B symptoms; a doctor should monitor a patient with hepatitis B and HIV for liver function closely

The following side effects may occur but do not usually represent an emergency. Discuss with your doctor or healthcare professional if they continue or are bothersome.

  • anorexia
  • changes in the distribution of body fat, such as an increasing amount of fat on the neck
  • constipation
  • cough
  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • malaise
  • nausea
  • skin rashes
  • vomiting

This list may not describe all possible side effects. Call your doctor or healthcare provider for advice about side effects. You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

Retrovir and Pregnancy

The FDA has approved Retrovir for use during pregnancy to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. An intravenous solution of Retrovir may be administered during the start of labor. The medication is also given to babies during the first six weeks of life to reduce the likelihood a baby will contract HIV from a mother who has HIV.

Where Should I Keep Retrovir?

Retrovir should be stored at room temperature–somewhere between 59 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit (15 and 25 degrees Celsius). Intravenous Retrovir must be delivered at the same temperature within eight hours of starting the infusion. However, refrigerated intravenous Retrovir should be kept at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 8 degrees Celsius) and administered within 24 hours. 

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.

FDA WARNING: Retrovir carries a black box warning because it can have life-threatening effects on the body, including lactic acidosis, liver conditions, blood disorders and/or muscle weakness known as myopathy. Seek immediate medical treatment if you experience symptoms of these medical conditions.

The Healthline Site, its content, such as text, graphics, images, search results, HealthMaps, Trust Marks, and other material contained on the Healthline Site ("Content"), its services, and any information or material posted on the Healthline Site by third parties are provided for informational purposes only. None of the foregoing is a substitute for professional medical advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the Healthline Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Please read the Terms of Service for more information regarding use of the Healthline Site.   

Was this article helpful? Yes No

Thank you.

Your message has been sent.

We're sorry, an error occurred.

We are unable to collect your feedback at this time. However, your feedback is important to us. Please try again later.

Article Sources:

●      Retrovir. (2008). FDA. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from
●      Retrovir (zidovudine). (March 2011). National Institutes of Health DailyMed. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from
●      Zidovudine (Retrovir). (2013, August 23). AIDSinfo. Retrieved October 22, 2013 from

More on Healthline

Seasonal Allergies and COPD: Tips to Avoid Complications
Seasonal Allergies and COPD: Tips to Avoid Complications
For COPD patients, allergies pose the risk of serious complications. Learn some basic tips for avoiding allergy-related complications of COPD in this slideshow.
The Best Multiple Sclerosis iPhone and Android Apps of the Year
The Best Multiple Sclerosis iPhone and Android Apps of the Year
These best multiple sclerosis apps provide helpful information and tools to keep track of your symptoms, including medication reminders.
Numbness, Muscle Pain and Other RA Symptoms
Numbness, Muscle Pain and Other RA Symptoms
The symptoms of RA are more than just joint pain and stiffness. Common symptoms include loss of feeling, muscle pain, and more. Learn more in this slideshow.
Common Asthma Triggers and How to Avoid Them
Common Asthma Triggers and How to Avoid Them
Learn about some of the most common triggers for asthma, as well as measures you can take to minimize your risk of exposure, symptoms, and flares.
Timeline of an Anaphylactic Reaction
Timeline of an Anaphylactic Reaction
From first exposure to life-threatening complications, learn how quickly an allergy attack can escalate and why it can become life threatening.