Retrovir

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.

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Article Sources:

●      Retrovir. (2008). FDA. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2008/019910s033lbl.pdf
●      Retrovir (zidovudine). (March 2011). National Institutes of Health DailyMed. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/lookup.cfm?setid=a524da34-b315-452c-5ab3-e86bd9615e92
●      Zidovudine (Retrovir). (2013, August 23). AIDSinfo. Retrieved October 22, 2013 from http://aidsinfo.nih.gov/drugs/4/zidovudine/0/patient

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