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Drugs reference index «Retrovir»



Generic name: ZidovudineBrand names: Retrovir

Why is Retrovir prescribed?

Retrovir is prescribed for adults infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV causes the immune system to break down so that it can no longer respond effectively to infection, leading to the fatal disease known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Retrovir slows down the progress of HIV. Sometimes Retrovir is combined with other anti-HIV drugs.

Retrovir is also prescribed for HIV-infected children over 3 months of age who have symptoms of HIV or who have no symptoms but, through testing, have shown evidence of impaired immunity.

Retrovir taken during pregnancy often prevents transmission of HIV from mother to child.

Most important fact about Retrovir

The long-term effects of treatment with zidovudine are unknown. However, treatment with Retrovir may lead to blood diseases, including granulocytopenia (a severe blood disorder characterized by a sharp decrease of certain types of white blood cells called granulocytes) and severe anemia requiring blood transfusions. This is especially true in women, individuals who are overweight, people who have been using Retrovir for a long time, people with more advanced HIV, and those who start treatment later in the course of their infection.

Also, because Retrovir is not a cure for HIV infections or AIDS, those who are infected may continue to develop complications, including opportunistic infections that develop when the immune system falters. Therefore, frequent blood counts by your doctor are strongly advised. Notify your doctor immediately of any changes in your general health.

How should you take Retrovir?

Take Retrovir exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Do not share Retrovir with anyone and do not exceed your recommended dosage. Take it at even intervals every 4 hours around the clock (children every 6 hours).

If you are pregnant, take the drug 5 times a day.

  • If you miss a dose...Take it as soon as you remember. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the one you missed and go back to your regular schedule. Do not take 2 doses at once.
  • Storage instructions...Tablets, capsules, and syrup should be stored at room temperature; keep capsules away from moisture.

What side effects may occur?

Side effects cannot be anticipated. If any develop or change in intensity, inform your doctor as soon as possible. Only your doctor can determine if it is safe for you to continue taking Retrovir.

The frequency and severity of side effects associated with the use of Retrovir are greater in people whose infection is more advanced when treatment is started. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish side effects from the underlying signs of HIV disease or the infections caused by HIV.

  • Side effects may include:Cough, diarrhea, difficult or labored breathing, ear pain, discharge or swelling, enlarged liver, enlarged spleen, fever, general feeling of illness, headache, loss of appetite, mouth sores, nausea, nasal discharge or congestion, rash, swollen lymph nodes, vomiting

Why should Retrovir not be prescribed?

If you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to Retrovir or any of its ingredients, you should not take Retrovir.

Special warnings about Retrovir

This drug has been studied for only a limited period of time. Long-term safety and effectiveness are not known, especially for people who are in a less advanced stage of AIDS or AIDS-related complex (the condition that precedes AIDS), and for those using the drug over a prolonged period of time.

Retrovir can cause an enlarged liver and the chemical imbalance known as lactic acidosis. This serious and sometimes fatal side effect is more likely in women, people who are overweight, and those who have been taking drugs such as Retrovir for an extended period. Signs of lactic acidosis include fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, and a feeling of unwellness. Contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. Treatment with Retrovir may have to be discontinued.

If you develop a blood disease, you may require a blood transfusion, and your doctor may reduce your dose or take you off the drug altogether. Make sure your doctor monitors your blood count on a regular basis.

The use of Retrovir has not been shown to reduce the risk of transmission of HIV to others through sexual contact or blood contamination or to nursing infants.

Retrovir should be used with extreme caution by people who have a bone marrow disease.

Some people taking Retrovir develop a sensitization reaction, often signaled by a rash. If you notice a rash developing, notify your doctor.

Contact your doctor immediately if you develop shortness of breath, muscle weakness, abdominal pain, or any unexpected problems while being treated with Retrovir.

Because little data are available concerning the use of Retrovir in people with impaired kidney or liver function, check with your doctor before using Retrovir if you have either problem.

Like other HIV drugs, Retrovir sometimes causes a redistribution of body fat, resulting in added weight around the waist, a "buffalo hump" of fat on the upper back, breast enlargement, and wasting of the face, arms, and legs. It's not known why this occurs, or what long-term effects it might have.

Possible food and drug interactions when taking Retrovir

If Retrovir is taken with certain other drugs, the effects of either could be increased, decreased, or altered. It is especially important to check with your doctor before combining Retrovir with the following:

AtovaquoneDoxorubicinFluconazoleGanciclovirInterferonMethadoneNelfinavirPhenytoinProbenecidRibavirinRifampinRitonavirStavudineValproic acid

Do not take Retrovir with Combivir or Trizivir, which contain the same active ingredient.

Special information if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

The effects of Retrovir during pregnancy are under study. Use during pregnancy has been shown to protect the developing baby from contracting HIV. If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, inform your doctor immediately.

Since HIV can be passed on through breast milk to a nursing infant, do not breastfeed your baby.

Recommended dosage for Retrovir


All dosages of Retrovir must be very closely monitored by your physician. The following dosages are general; your physician will tailor the dose to your specific condition.

Tablets, Capsules, and Syrup

The usual dose of Retrovir, in combination with other HIV drugs, is 600 milligrams a day, divided into smaller doses.

If you are pregnant, the usual dosage is 100 milligrams in capsules, tablets, or syrup 5 times a day, beginning at 14 weeks of pregnancy, until you go into labor. You will then be given the drug intravenously until the baby is born. The baby will get Retrovir every 6 hours until it is 6 weeks old.


The usual starting dose for children 6 weeks to 12 years of age is determined by body size. While the dose should not exceed 200 milligrams every 8 hours, it must still be individually determined. The drug is given along with other HIV medications.


Any medication taken in excess can have serious consequences. If you suspect an overdose, seek emergency medical treatment immediately.

  • Symptoms of Retrovir overdose may include:Fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting
  • Retrovir Prescribing Information (FDA)
  • Retrovir MedFacts Consumer Leaflet (Wolters Kluwer)
  • Retrovir Concise Consumer Information (Cerner Multum)
  • Retrovir Advanced Consumer (Micromedex) - Includes Dosage Information
  • Zidovudine Prescribing Information (FDA)

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