If you’re considering options to either treat or prevent HIV, your doctor may recommend Descovy. It’s a prescription drug that’s used to treat HIV and prevent HIV in certain people.

Descovy is prescribed for adults and some children. To learn more about HIV and how Descovy is used for it, see the “Is Descovy used for PrEP?” and “Is Descovy used for HIV?” sections below.

Descovy contains two active drugs in one tablet. The active ingredients are emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide. You’ll take Descovy tablets by mouth.

Descovy isn’t available in a generic form. Instead, it only comes as the brand-name drug.

Read on to learn about Descovy’s uses, side effects, and more.

Your doctor may prescribe Descovy for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) of HIV. For PrEP, you’ll take the drug before you’ve been exposed to HIV. If you don’t have HIV but you’re at risk for contracting it, taking Descovy can reduce your risk of getting HIV.

HIV is a virus that affects your immune system. It damages certain cells and prevents your body from fighting off infections.

HIV can be passed between people in a few different ways. These include having sex or sharing needles with someone who has HIV.

Descovy is prescribed for PrEP in adults and in children weighing at least 35 kilograms (about 77 pounds). But for this use, it should not be taken by females* at risk for getting HIV from vaginal sex.

Descovy reduces your risk for contracting HIV by blocking HIV from making copies of itself and from entering your body’s cells.

Descovy is also approved to treat HIV in certain people. For more information about this, see the “Is Descovy used for HIV?” section directly below.

* Use of the terms “female” or “male” within this article refers to a person’s sex assigned at birth.

Your doctor may prescribe Descovy to treat HIV, which is a virus that affects your immune system.

HIV damages certain cells and prevents your body from fighting off infections. If you’re taking Descovy to treat HIV, you’ll take it with other medications called antiretrovirals.

To treat HIV, more than one medication needs to be taken. Using many HIV drugs for treatment is called an HIV regimen. An HIV regimen contains two to three HIV medications from a minimum of two drug classes. (A drug class is a group of medications that work in the same way.) Descovy is used as part of an HIV regimen.

Descovy is prescribed to treat HIV in combination with other HIV drugs for adults and some children. Children who weigh at least 35 kilograms (kg) (about 77 pounds [lb]) can take Descovy.

Children weighing at least 25 kg (about 55 lb) and less than 35 kg (about 77 lb) may also take Descovy. But doctors must prescribe another HIV medication that is not a protease inhibitor. (Protease inhibitors are a kind of HIV medication that acts different to Descovy.)

Descovy treats HIV by blocking HIV from making copies of itself in your body’s cells. Although HIV regimens lower the number of HIV copies in your body, they don’t cure HIV. But, these treatments can lengthen lifespan and help reduce the spread of HIV to other people.

Descovy is also approved to prevent HIV in certain people. For more information about this, see the “Is Descovy used for PrEP?” section directly above.

Your doctor will explain how you should take Descovy. They will also explain how much to take and how often. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions. Below are commonly used dosages, but always take the dose your doctor prescribes.

Taking Descovy

Descovy comes as tablets that you’ll take by mouth.

Dosage

For pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), you’ll likely take one Descovy tablet once daily.

For HIV treatment, you’ll also take one Descovy tablet once daily. With Descovy, you’ll take other HIV medications, too.

For information about how Descovy is used for PrEP and HIV treatment, see the sections above called “Is Descovy used for PrEP?” and “Is Descovy used for HIV?

Taking Descovy with other drugs

If you’re taking Descovy for HIV treatment, you’ll take it together with other HIV medications.

To treat HIV, more than one medication needs to be taken. Using many HIV drugs for treatment is called an HIV regimen. An HIV regimen contains two to three HIV medications from a minimum of two drug classes. (A drug class is a group of medications that work in the same way.) Descovy is used as part of an HIV regimen.

For example, in an HIV treatment regimen, people can take Descovy with either:

  • dolutegravir (Tivicay)
  • cobicistat and darunavir (Prezcobix)
  • raltegravir (Isentress)
  • doravirine (Pifeltro)
  • efavirenz (Sustiva)
  • rilpivirine (Edurant)
  • atazanavir and cobicistat (Evotaz)

If you’re taking Descovy for PrEP, you’ll likely take it without other HIV drugs.

Questions about taking Descovy

Below are answers to some common questions about Descovy.

  • What if I miss a dose of Descovy? It’s important to take Descovy every day on a regular schedule. Missing a dose can affect how well Descovy works. If you miss a dose of Descovy, take it as soon as you remember. Then, take your next dose at the usual time. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure when to take Descovy after you’ve missed a dose.
  • Will I need to use Descovy long term?
    • If you’re taking Descovy for HIV treatment and it’s working well for you, you’ll need to take it long term. Talk with your doctor about how long you’ll need to take Descovy.
    • If you’re taking Descovy for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), your doctor may tell you when to stop taking it. You’ll need to stop taking Descovy if you test positive for HIV. Do not stop taking Descovy without talking with your doctor.
  • Can Descovy be chewed, crushed, or split? It’s unknown whether you can chew, crush, or split Descovy tablets. If you have trouble swallowing pills, talk with your pharmacist. They can suggest safe ways to take Descovy.
  • Should I take Descovy with food? You can take Descovy with or without food.
  • How long does Descovy take to work? Descovy works quickly to reduce the amount of HIV in your body.
    • If you’re taking Descovy for HIV treatment, your doctor might test how much HIV is in your body 2 to 8 weeks after starting or changing treatment. In studies, most people had reduced levels of HIV in their body after 24 weeks of treatment.
    • If you’re taking Descovy for PrEP (to prevent HIV), your doctor may test you for HIV after 4 weeks. This will likely happen if you had a recent exposure to HIV or have symptoms of acute HIV. Otherwise, you should be tested for HIV at least once every 3 months while taking Descovy. If you’re taking Descovy as prescribed and following HIV-prevention measures, the drug acts quickly to prevent HIV.
Questions for your doctor

You may have questions about Descovy and your treatment plan. It’s important to discuss all your concerns with your doctor.

Here are a few tips that might help guide your discussion:

  • Before your appointment, write down questions like:
    • How will Descovy affect my body, mood, or lifestyle?
  • Bring someone with you to your appointment if doing so will help you feel more comfortable.
  • If you don’t understand something related to your condition or treatment, ask your doctor to explain it to you.

Remember, your doctor and other healthcare providers are here to help you. And they want you to get the best care possible. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions or offer feedback on your treatment.

Like most drugs, Descovy may cause mild or serious side effects. The lists below describe some of the more common side effects that Descovy may cause. These lists don’t include all possible side effects.

Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you more about the potential side effects of Descovy. They can also suggest ways to help reduce side effects.

Mild side effects

Here’s a short list of some of the mild side effects that Descovy can cause. To learn about other mild side effects, talk with your doctor or pharmacist, or read Descovy’s medication guide.

Mild side effects of Descovy can include:

Mild side effects of many drugs may go away within a few days or a couple of weeks. But if they become bothersome, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

* For more information about this side effect, see the “Side effect focus” section below.

Serious side effects

Serious side effects from Descovy can occur, but they aren’t common. If you have serious side effects from Descovy, call your doctor right away. However, if you think you’re having a medical emergency, you should call 911 or your local emergency number.

Serious side effects can include:

* For more information about this side effect, see the “Side effect focus” section directly below.

Side effect focus

Learn more about some of the side effects Descovy may cause.

Boxed warnings

Descovy has boxed warnings about severe worsening of hepatitis B infection and HIV resistance. Boxed warnings are serious warnings from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

  • Severe worsening of hepatitis B infection. Some people may have severe worsening of hepatitis B with Descovy. This happens in people who already have hepatitis B. And it’s been seen in some people who’ve stopped taking Descovy.
  • HIV resistance. People taking Descovy to help prevent HIV, but who have undetected HIV, may develop HIV resistance to one or both of Descovy’s active drugs. When HIV becomes resistant to one or both of Descovy’s active drugs, the medication no longer works as well to treat HIV.

What might help

Before starting Descovy, let your doctor know if you have hepatitis B or HIV.

If you have hepatitis B, stopping Descovy can make it worse. Your doctor will monitor your health and do regular blood tests for a while after you stop taking Descovy. Sometimes people need to take medications to treat hepatitis after stopping Descovy.

Talk with your doctor right away if you notice new or unusual symptoms after stopping Descovy.

If you have HIV, your doctor will prescribe Descovy with other HIV medications. Taking only Descovy to treat HIV can make the virus more difficult to control, and resistance could develop.

Talk with your doctor about whether you’ll need to take other drugs with Descovy.

Nausea

In studies, nausea was the most common side effect reported by adults and children with HIV who took Descovy. It’s possible that some severe side effects of Descovy, such as liver damage, may also cause nausea.

If you’re not sure if your nausea is a mild side effect or a symptom of a more serious side effect, talk with your doctor.

What might help

Don’t stop taking Descovy if you have nausea. Instead, talk with your doctor before stopping any HIV medication. Your doctor or pharmacist may recommend that you take another drug to reduce your nausea. But before taking any over-the-counter (OTC) nausea medication, talk with your doctor.

Your doctor may suggest changing your diet to help ease your nausea. Choosing low fat, low fiber foods may help. Eating frequent, small meals can also help you feel better.

Diarrhea

You may experience frequent watery stools while taking Descovy. In studies, diarrhea was the most common side effect reported in people who took Descovy to prevent HIV.

It’s possible that diarrhea may cause you to become dehydrated. With dehydration, you have low levels of fluid and electrolytes in your body. If you become dehydrated because of diarrhea, you may have:

  • increased thirst
  • dizziness
  • urinating less often or producing less urine than usual
  • mood changes

If any of these symptoms occur with diarrhea, talk with your doctor right away.

What might help

Some OTC medications may help reduce diarrhea. But be sure to talk with your doctor first before taking any drugs with Descovy.

Certain foods may help ease diarrhea. For example, the BRAT diet, which consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, may help. Avoiding dairy is another way to help ease diarrhea.

If you feel dehydrated from diarrhea, you’ll need to replenish lost fluids. Drinking diluted juice or electrolyte drinks can help prevent dehydration from diarrhea.

If your diarrhea gets worse or doesn’t go away, talk with your doctor.

Fatigue

You might feel fatigued (have a lack of energy) when you’re taking Descovy. Fatigue can also happen when your body is trying to fight off HIV, which Descovy is used to treat.

Other serious side effects of Descovy may also cause fatigue. These include:

  • immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (a reaction of your immune system to infections already inside your body)
  • kidney failure
  • lactic acidosis (increased acid level in your body)

If you’re unsure why you’re feeling fatigue, or if your fatigue is getting worse, talk with your doctor.

What might help

Serious side effects can sometimes cause fatigue. Talk with your doctor if your fatigue is affecting your quality of life. They can help determine what’s causing this symptom. And they may be able to suggest ways to help increase your energy level.

Allergic reaction

Allergic reaction wasn’t mentioned in clinical studies of Descovy. But some people may still react to the drug.

Symptoms of a mild allergic reaction can include:

  • rash
  • itchiness
  • flushing (warmth, swelling, or redness in your skin)

A more severe allergic reaction is rare but possible. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can include swelling under your skin, typically in your eyelids, lips, hands, or feet. They can also include swelling of your tongue, mouth, or throat, which can cause trouble breathing.

Call your doctor right away if you have an allergic reaction to Descovy. But if you think you’re having a medical emergency, call 911 or your local emergency number.

Find answers to some commonly asked questions about Descovy.

How are Descovy and Truvada different from each other?

Descovy and Truvada are HIV medications that contain similar active drugs. Both Descovy and Truvada contain emtricitabine. But in addition, Descovy contains tenofovir alafenamide, and Truvada contains tenofovir disoproxil fumerate.

Either Descovy or Truvada may be prescribed for:

Either Descovy or Truvada may be prescribed for:

It’s possible to have more side effects with Truvada than with Descovy. This is because tenofovir alafenamide causes fewer bone and kidney problems than tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.

In some cases, Truvada might be a preferred treatment because it can lower fat levels in the blood. Also, Truvada is approved for use in females* at risk for getting HIV from vaginal sex. But Descovy isn’t approved for PrEP in that case.

If you have more questions about the difference between Descovy and Truvada, talk with your doctor.

* Use of the terms “female” or “male” within this article refers to a person’s sex assigned at birth.

Does Descovy cause weight gain?

Weight gain isn’t a known side effect of Descovy. It’s not clear if Descovy causes changes in body weight. But people taking Descovy for HIV treatment may have changes in weight that are caused by other HIV drugs they’re taking.

If you have concerns about your body weight while you’re taking Descovy, talk with your doctor.

How does Descovy work?

Descovy contains two medications that are nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI). This type of HIV medication blocks HIV from making copies of itself inside your body’s cells. Without the ability to make copies of itself, HIV stops spreading inside your body.

HIV attacks the cells of your immune system. So, with fewer copies of HIV in your body, your immune system can better fight off HIV.

If you’re taking Descovy to prevent getting HIV, the drug also stops the virus from entering your immune system.

Some important things to discuss with your doctor before taking Descovy include your overall health and any medications you’re taking. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your doctor before taking Descovy.

Interactions

Taking medications, vaccines, foods, and other things with a certain drug can affect how the drug works. These effects are called interactions.

Before taking Descovy, be sure to tell your doctor about all medications you take (including prescription and over-the-counter types). Also describe any vitamins, herbs, or supplements you use. Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you about any interactions these items may cause with Descovy.

Interactions with drugs or supplements

Descovy can interact with several types of drugs. Because Descovy contains two active drugs, many other drugs or supplements can cause interactions.

Some drugs can decrease the levels of tenofovir, one of the active drugs in Descovy. These drugs include:

Drugs that your body clears through your kidneys can also interfere with how Descovy is cleared. Examples of these drugs include the antivirals:

These lists don’t contain all types of drugs that may interact with Descovy. Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you more about these interactions and any others that may occur with use of Descovy.

Boxed warnings

Descovy has boxed warnings about severe worsening of hepatitis B infection and HIV resistance. Boxed warnings are serious warnings from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Severe worsening of hepatitis B infection. Some people may have severe worsening of hepatitis B with Descovy. This happens in people who already have hepatitis B. And it’s been seen in some people who’ve stopped taking Descovy.

HIV resistance. People taking Descovy to help prevent HIV, but who have undetected HIV, may develop HIV resistance to one or both of Descovy’s active drugs. When HIV becomes resistant to one or both of Descovy’s active drugs, the medication no longer works as well to treat HIV.

For more information about these warnings, see the “What are Descovy’s side effects?” section above.

Other warnings

Descovy may not be right for you if you have certain medical conditions or other factors that affect your health. Talk with your doctor about your health history before you take Descovy. Factors to consider include those in the list below.

  • Allergic reaction. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to Descovy or any of its ingredients, you shouldn’t take Descovy. Ask your doctor what other medications are better options for you.
  • Immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS). An infection that’s already in your body or that was treated in the past can worsen or come back when HIV medications are started. This condition is called IRIS. Before starting Descovy, be sure to let your doctor know about any infections you have or have had in the past.

Use with alcohol

Descovy isn’t known to interact with alcohol. But researchers suggest that alcohol use is common in people with HIV. And unhealthy alcohol use can increase your risk for getting HIV.

Also, drinking too much alcohol may affect whether you can take your HIV medications properly.

It’s recommended that people with HIV limit the use of alcohol. And people at risk for getting HIV should also limit how much alcohol they drink.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Descovy can be taken during pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, be sure to tell your doctor before you start Descovy. Also tell your doctor if you become pregnant while taking Descovy. Your doctor may want to monitor you more closely if you’re using Descovy during pregnancy.

If you use Descovy during pregnancy, consider enrolling in the drug’s pregnancy registry. This registry keeps track of reported pregnancy issues with Descovy. It is called the Antiretroviral Pregnancy Registry (APR).

To enroll in the registry and report Descovy’s effects on pregnancy, call 800-258-4263.

In the United States, doctors don’t recommend breastfeeding in people with HIV. This is because HIV can be passed to a child who’s breastfed.

So, if you’re taking Descovy to treat HIV, your doctor will likely recommend that you don’t breastfeed. Keep in mind, Descovy isn’t recommended to prevent HIV in females* at risk for getting HIV from vaginal sex.

It’s not known if Descovy affects milk production or if it can affect a breastfed baby.

* Use of the terms “female” or “male” within this article refers to a person’s sex assigned at birth.

Costs of prescription drugs can vary depending on many factors. These factors include what your insurance plan covers and which pharmacy you use. To find current prices for Descovy in your area, visit GoodRx.com.

If you have questions about how to pay for your prescription, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. You can also visit the Descovy manufacturer’s website to see if they have support options.

Don’t take more Descovy than your doctor prescribes. Using more than this can lead to serious side effects. If you take too much Descovy, your doctor may closely monitor you for symptoms of overdose.

What to do in case you take too much Descovy

Call your doctor if you think you’ve taken too much Descovy. You can also call 800-222-1222 to reach the American Association of Poison Control Centers, or use their online resource. However, if you have severe symptoms, immediately call 911 (or your local emergency number) or go to the nearest emergency room.

If you have questions about taking Descovy, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. Your doctor can tell you about other treatments you can use for your condition. Here’s a list of articles that you might find helpful:

Some questions to ask your doctor about Descovy may include:

  • Is Descovy better than Truvada in preventing HIV?
  • When can I stop taking Descovy to prevent HIV?
  • Can I drink alcohol while taking Descovy?
  • Which natural products can I take to boost my immune system and prevent HIV?

You can learn more about the uses of Descovy by subscribing to the Healthline HIV newsletter.

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.