Brand names of zidovudine

  • Combivir
  • Retrovir

Zidovudine belongs to a class of drugs known as nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) and this category also includes medications, such as stavudine (Zerit), zalcitabine (Hivid), didanosine (Videx) and lamivudine (Epivir). This medication is available in both oral and injectable form and is generally used to treat the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). When an individual is infected with HIV, this virus continues to multiply inside the body's cells. Subsequently, the newly-formed viruses are released from the cells and spread all over the body infecting new and healthy cells. This way, the infection keeps on spreading to new and uninfected cells that are produced by the body continuously and thereby, HIV infection is complete.

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While turning out new viruses, the HIV virus is required to produce new DNA for every virus. Reverse transcriptase is basically the enzyme that this virus utilizes to produce new DNA for the new viruses. In such conditions, zidovudine works by slowing down the activity of reverse transcriptase and obstructs the manufacture of new DNA, and, thereby, stopping the production of new viruses. Precisely speaking, inside the body, zidovudine is changed to its active form - zidovudine triphosphate. This active form of zidovudine is akin to the compound thymidine triphosphate - a chemical substance that is needed by the HIV virus to manufacture new DNA. Now, the reverse transcriptase makes use of zidovudine triphosphate in place of thymidine triphosphate for manufacturing DNA, and zidovudine triphosphate gets in the way or obstructs the reverse transcriptase. It is important to note that zidovudine does not eliminate the already existing HIV virus and neither is this medication a cure for HIV. It simply, helps to stop the HIV viruses from multiplying and spreading further into the body. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale and use of zidovudine in 1987.

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Things you need to tell your physician before taking zidovudine

As in the case of any other drug, you ought to adopt a number of precautions before you start taking zidovudine. Prior to starting your treatment with zidovudine, it is important to tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have any allergic reaction to this drug or are susceptible to any other allergies. Prior to using this medication, tell your physician or pharmacist regarding your entire medical history, particularly if you have any kidney ailments, liver problems, for instance, hepatitis B or C, cirrhosis, poor red/ white blood cells count and/ or alcohol use. Similarly, if people taking zidovudine require undergoing any surgery or dental operation, they should tell their surgeon or dentist that they are using this medication. In addition, before starting treatment with zidovudine, tell your doctor about all the prescription and non-prescription (over-the-counter) drugs, herbal products and vitamins and nutritional supplements being taken by you.

Zidovudine available in liquid form may enclose sugar. Hence, it is advisable to exercise caution in case you have diabetes or any other medical condition that stipulates restricting the use of sugar in your diet. For better guidance regarding the safe use of the medication you may consult your doctor or pharmacist. In addition, while engaging in sexual activities you ought to always use an effectual barrier method, for instance, polyurethane condoms, latex and dental dams with a view to lessen the risk of the HIV disease spreading to your partner and others. You may consult your doctor or pharmacist for further details regarding this issue.

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This medication is removed from the body by the kidneys, but as is well known the functioning of the kidneys decline with advancing age. Hence, older people using zidovudine need to exercise additional caution, as they are more susceptible to the effects of this medication.

On the other hand, pregnant women should use this medication only when it is absolutely necessary and following consultation with the doctor. Nevertheless, these days, HIV medications are prescribed for pregnant women with HIV and treating pregnant women with such medications have shown that it lessens the risks of HIV transmission to the fetus. Therefore, zidovudine may also be used as a part of this type of treatment. However, prior to using zidovudine, it is important for pregnant women to discuss the benefits and risks of using this medication with their doctor. Zidovudine is known to pass onto the breast milk, which has the potential to transmit HIV to the infant. Hence, women taking this medication should not breast feed.

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Zidovudine is generally used to treat HIV infection along with other medications. In addition, this medication is also used to prevent transmission of the HIV virus from pregnant women to their still born babies. It is important to note that zidovudine neither cures HIV disease, nor does it eliminate the HIV viruses already existing within the body. This drug is, however, effective in inhibiting the growth and spread of HIV viruses in the body. In other words, zidovudine helps to suppress the multiplication of the HIV virus and, at the same time, withhold the spread of the disease. In addition, zidovudine is also used in the treatment of HIV-related thrombocytopenia (poor platelet count) and HIV-related dementia (a medical condition wherein there is a serious emotional and mental deterioration).

Using zidovudine may also help to lessen the risk of complications due to HIV, for instance, cancers and new infections. This medication is also given to newborns delivered by women who are already infected by HIV virus with a view to prevent the virus from being transmitted to the newborns. As aforementioned, zidovudine belongs to the group of drugs called nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs).

How to use zidovudine

Zidovudine should be taken exactly as your doctor has prescribed the medication for you. Never use the medication in excess of what has been recommended by your doctor. In addition, zidovudine should also not been taken for longer periods than what has been prescribed by your doctor. Before using the medication, carefully follow the instructions on the prescription label.

It is important to always take zidovudine with a full glass (8 oz.) of water. If you are taking zidovudine syrup, gauge the liquid with a medicine cup or a marked medicine spoon to ensure that you are taking the correct dosage of the medication. It is advisable not to measure the liquid with a normal table spoon for it will not provide you the exact dosage. In case you do not possess a device to measure the dosage, ask your pharmacist to provide you with one. Use this medication on a regular basis with the view to obtain the utmost benefit from it. It is advisable to obtain your refill before you run short of the medication totally.

Generally, HIV and AIDS are treated with a combination of diverse drugs. In order to treat your condition in the best possible manner, you should use all your medications according to your doctor's prescription. Ensure that you read the patient instructions or the medication guide that is provided with all the medications you get. It is not advisable to alter the doses of your medication or change the dosage schedule without prior consultation with your doctor. It is important that all HIV or AIDS patients should always be under the guidance of a physician.

Your doctor will be undertaking regular blood tests to ensure that this medication is actually helping to improve your condition. In addition to the blood tests, it may also be important to have your liver examined regularly. Finally, it is important that you do not miss any appointment with your doctor.

How zidovudine works

Zidovudine works by obstructing the activity of thymidine triphosphate - a chemical compound that is required by the HIV virus to manufacture new DNA for all newly produced viruses in the viral cells. New HIV virus cannot sustain without the new DNA. In this manner, this medication helps to prevent the growth/ multiplication of the HIV viruses and their spread within the body.

Side effects

Less common
  • hepatitis (liver inflammation, which may cause yellowish discoloration of skin and eyes)
  • bands of discoloration on the fingernails

Possible interactions

Like most other drugs, zidovudine is also known to interact with a number of medicines, especially herbal products, and minerals. Hence, it is advisable not to take them concurrently. It may be noted that a number of patients use the herb Echinacea with a view to perk up their immune system. However, people with impaired immune systems should never use Echinacea. In effect, this herb has the ability to further weaken the immune system when taken regularly and for prolong periods.


Zidovudine should not be discontinued abruptly or without prior consultation with the doctor. It is essential to seek the advice and guidance of the doctor before one wants to stop taking this medication.

Storage instructions

Zidovudine should always be stored at room temperature between 59°F and 77°F (15°C and 25°C) and in a dark and dry place. Never keep this medication in your bathroom, which is mostly damp. Keep the medication in such a place that is beyond the reach of children and pets.

If the medicines become outdated or are needed no longer, do not discard them by flushing down the toilet or pouring in the drain, unless it has been instructed otherwise. Always adopt a proper and safe manner to discard medicines that are not required any longer. You may consult your pharmacist or the neighbourhood disposal company regarding details on the safe and proper disposal of the unwanted medicines.


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