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:
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 health care provider 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.
Zidovudine is a prescription medicine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the following uses:
Zidovudine belongs to a class (group) of HIV drugs called nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs). NRTIs block an HIV enzyme called reverse transcriptase. (An enzyme is a protein that starts or increases the speed of a chemical reaction.) By blocking reverse transcriptase, NRTIs prevent HIV from multiplying and can reduce the amount of HIV in the body.
HIV medicines can’t cure HIV/AIDS, but taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) every day helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. HIV medicines also reduce the risk of HIV transmission. However, despite use of zidovudine to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, some cases of HIV infection can still occur.
Zidovudine may also be used “off-label” to treat human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8) infection in people with HIV who are also receiving combination antiretroviral therapy (ART). “Off-label” use refers to use of an FDA-approved medicine in a manner different from that described on the medicine label. Good medical practice and the best interests of a patient sometimes require that a medicine be used “off-label.”
For information on the off-label use of zidovudine, please refer to the Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents.
Before taking zidovudine, tell your health care provider:
Zidovudine comes in the following forms and strengths, under the 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 health care provider or
local poison control center (1-800-222-1222) right away, or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
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.
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.
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:
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. To learn more about possible side effects of zidovudine, read the drug label or package insert or talk to your health care provider or pharmacist.
The AIDSinfo fact sheet on HIV Medicines and Side Effects also includes information that may apply to zidovudine.
You can also report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 (1-800-332-1088) or online at https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/medwatch/.
More information about zidovudine is available:
Last Reviewed: April 28, 2015