Retrovir: Side Effects, Dosage, Information

Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN | Published on October 3, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Susan J. Bliss, RPh, MBA on October 3, 2014

What Is Retrovir?

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

Retrovir is FDA approved to treat HIV in combination with at least two other antiretroviral drugs. It’s also used to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV during pregnancy and birth. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Retrovir for the treatment of HIV. It can be used by adults and children over the age of 4 weeks. The medication is also FDA-approved to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV during pregnancy and birth. However, the medication doesn’t guarantee that the virus will not be transmitted. Retrovir is used in combination with other medications when it’s used as an HIV treatment. It’s not sufficient to treat HIV with Retrovir alone.

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.

What Are the Typical Doses?

Retrovir may be taken with or without food.  The adult dose is 300 milligrams (mg) twice a day or 200 mg three times a day. The medication is also available in intravenous (IV) preparation.  The dose must be adjusted for patients with severely reduced kidney function or who are on dialysis. It’s also approved for use in children at least four weeks of age, and the IV preparation can be given to infants. All doses for children are calculated on the basis of age and weight.

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

Possible Adverse and Emergency Side Effects

The following are severe and emergent side effects of Retrovir.  Many adverse effects are evaluated through lab tests.  Report to your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • blood disorders, including anemia, lactic acidosis and others. Symptoms may include severe fatigue, shortness of breath, headache, difficulty breathing, feeling cold, pale skin, chest pain, headache, feeling cold, dizzy or having stomach pain. 
  • enlarged liver or tenderness over the liver.  Symptoms of this may include dark urine, decrease in appetite, fatigue, jaundice or yellowing of the skin, and nausea.   
  • immune reconstitution syndrome, a condition that causes an inflammatory response in viruses in the blood, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis
  • severe rash or skin changes
  • muscle pain or muscle inflammation (myopathy or myositis)
  • worsening of hepatitis B symptoms. A doctor should monitor a patient with hepatitis B and HIV for liver function closely.

Possible Nonemergency Side Effects

The following side effects may occur but do not usually represent an emergency, and often resolve within the first few weeks of treatment. Discuss with your doctor 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
  • mild 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 6 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. Refrigerated intravenous Retrovir should be kept at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 8 degrees Celsius) and administered within 24 hours. 

Important FDA Warnings

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.

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