Zidovudine can cause serious, life-threatening side effects. These include lactic acidosis (buildup of acid in the blood), liver problems, muscle weakness (myopathy), and blood disorders such as severe anemia (extremely reduced numbers of red blood cells) or neutropenia (reduced numbers of white blood cells).
Contact your health care provider right away if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Unusual breathing.
- Shortness of breath.
- Unusual bleeding or bruising.
- Unusual tiredness or weakness.
- Pale skin.
- Sore throat.
- Loss of appetite.
- Upset stomach.
- Dark-colored urine.
- Yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes (jaundice).
- Light-colored bowel movements.
- Muscle weakness.
- Lack of strength.
- Muscle pain.
- Pain in the upper right part of your stomach.
Zidovudine can cause blood disorders such as severe anemia (extremely reduced numbers of red blood cells) or neutropenia (reduced numbers of white blood cells). Your doctor may follow your blood count closely while you are taking zidovudine.
Worsening of liver disease (sometimes resulting in death) has occurred in people infected with both HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) who were taking HIV medicines and also being treated for HCV infection with interferon with or without ribavirin. If you are taking zidovudine as well as interferon with or without ribavirin and you experience side effects, tell your health care provider.
While taking zidovudine, it is important to keep all of your appointments with your health care provider.
What is zidovudine?
Zidovudine is a prescription medicine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the following uses:
- Treatment of HIV infection in adults and children 4 weeks of age and older. When zidovudine is used to treat HIV infection, the medicine is always used in combination with other anti-HIV medicines.
- Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in pregnant HIV-infected women and their infants.
Zidovudine is a type of anti-HIV medicine called a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI). NRTIs work by blocking HIV reverse transcriptase, an HIV enzyme. This prevents HIV from replicating and lowers the amount of HIV in the blood.
Zidovudine does not cure HIV/AIDS.
Despite use of zidovudine to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, some cases of HIV infection can still occur.
What should I tell my health care provider before taking zidovudine?
Before taking zidovudine, tell your health care provider:
- If you are allergic to zidovudine or any other medicines.
- If you have or have ever had liver or kidney disease.
- If you have or have ever had bleeding, anemia, or other blood problems.
- If you have or have ever had any disease or swelling of the muscle.
- If you have or have had any other medical conditions.
- If you drink alcohol or have a history of alcohol abuse.
- If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Despite use of zidovudine to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, some cases of HIV infection can still occur. Whether exposure to zidovudine in the womb or after birth can harm a baby in the long term is unknown.
- If you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. Do not breastfeed if you are infected with HIV or are taking zidovudine.
- About other prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Zidovudine may affect the way other medicines or products work, and other medicines or products may affect how zidovudine works. Taking zidovudine together with certain medicines or products may cause serious and/or life-threatening side effects.
How should I take zidovudine?
Zidovudine comes in the following forms and strengths:
- 300-mg tablets (brand name: Retrovir).
- 100-mg capsules (brand name: Retrovir).
- 10-mg/mL syrup (brand name: Retrovir).
- 20-mL single-use vials (each containing 10 mg of zidovudine) of solution for intravenous infusion (brand name: Retrovir).
Take zidovudine according to your health care provider’s instructions.
Take zidovudine tablets, capsules, and syrup with or without food.
Before use, zidovudine solution for intravenous infusion is diluted with dextrose (sugar) dissolved in water. The diluted solution is given slowly (over 1 hour) through a needle or catheter into a vein.
If you take too much zidovudine, contact your local poison control center (1-800-222-1222) or go to the nearest hospital emergency room right away.
For more information on how to take zidovudine tablets, capsules, and syrup, see the FDA drug label from DailyMed. (DailyMed is a federal website that includes the most recent drug labels submitted to FDA.) For more information on how to take zidovudine intravenous infusion, see the drug summary from MedlinePlus.
What should I do if I forget a dose?
If you are taking zidovudine by mouth (tablets, capsules, or syrup) and forget a dose, take the missed dose as soon as you remember it. But if it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and just take your next dose at the regular time. Do not take two doses at the same time to make up for a missed dose.
If you or your child is taking zidovudine by infusion, your health care provider may tell you to stop the infusion if you or your child has a mechanical problem (such as blockage in the tubing, needle, or catheter). If you have to stop an infusion, call your health care provider immediately so your therapy can continue after the problem is resolved.
What side effects can zidovudine cause?
Zidovudine can cause serious, life-threatening side effects. These include lactic acidosis (buildup of acid in the blood), liver problems, muscle weakness (myopathy), and blood disorders such as severe anemia (extremely reduced numbers of red blood cells) or neutropenia (reduced numbers of white blood cells). (See the WARNING above).
Other possible side effects of zidovudine include:
- Changes in the immune system (immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome).
- Changes in body fat (lipodystrophy).
Tell your health care provider if you have any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away.
These are not all the possible side effects of zidovudine. Ask your health care provider or pharmacist for more information on possible side effects of zidovudine.
How should zidovudine be stored?
- Store zidovudine tablets, capsules, and oral solution at 59°F to 77°F (15°C to 25°C). Protect zidovudine capsules from moisture.
- Keep zidovudine in the container that it came in and keep the container tightly closed.
- Do not use zidovudine if the original seal over the bottle opening is broken or missing.
- Once zidovudine for intravenous infusion is diluted, use the solution within 8 hours if stored at 59°F to 77°F (15°C to 25°C) or 24 hours if refrigerated at 36°F to 46°F (2°C to 8°C).
- Protect vials of zidovudine for intravenous infusion from light.
- Safely throw away zidovudine that is no longer needed or expired (out of date).
- Keep zidovudine and all medicines out of reach of children.
Where can I find more information about zidovudine?
More information about zidovudine is available:
- The zidovudine drug label, from DailyMed. The Patient Counseling Information section of the label includes information for people taking zidovudine tablets, capsules, and syrup.
- The zidovudine drug summary from MedlinePlus includes information for people taking zidovudine intravenous infusion.
- Zidovudine-related research studies, from the AIDSinfo database of ClinicalTrials.gov study summaries.
- A list of FDA-approved HIV medicines, from FDA.
Last Reviewed: May 17, 2014
Last Updated: May 17, 2014