1 What is Retrovir?

Brand: Retrovir

Generic: Zidovudine

Retrovir is a prescription-only antiviral agent that delays worsening of immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

It can also be prescribed for HIV-infected pregnant women to prevent transmission of the infection to their babies during pregnancy and at birth.

Note that Retrovir only controls symptoms or slows disease progression. However, this still cannot cure or prevent HIV infection or AIDS.

It works by stopping the multiplication of HIV thus helping your immune system stay competent. Even when taking zidovudine, indulging in unprotected sexual activities will transmit the HIV to other people.

Following uses of zidovudine have not been recommended by the manufacturer but still your doctor can prescribe zidovudine in:

  • Prevention, possibly, of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection due to occupational exposure
  • Adult T-cell leukemia (cancer of a type of white blood cell) or lymphoma (cancer of the immune system) together with interferon alfa.

It is available as:

  • Capsule
  • Syrup
  • Tablet

2 What to Know Before Using

Before using Retrovir, you must know all about the risks and complications associated with it. Together with your doctor, you can decide whether the medication will do you more goods than the harms.

Here are some factors to be considered before deciding to use this medicine:

Allergies: Inform your doctor about the allergies you have, such as to this medication, other medications, or to foods, dyes, or preservatives.

Pediatric: It may be used in children after assessing risks and benefits of the use.

Geriatric: It may be used in elderly after assessing risks and benefits of the use, and adjusting the doses.

Pregnancy: It falls under pregnancy category C for all trimesters, meaning that due to lack of sufficient studies, it’s not clear if this medication is safe for use in pregnancy.

Breastfeeding: It may be used in a nursing mother after assessing risks and benefits of the use.

Drug Interactions: Taking two medicines together can be harmful due to possible interactions.

In other cases, even if there is a possible interaction between two medicines your doctor may advise you to take them together after adjusting the dose or issuing precautions.

Using the following medicine with zidovudine is generally not recommended. Inform your doctor if you are taking Amifampridine.

Though usually not recommended, your doctor may decide, after adjusting dose or frequency of one or both medicines, to use this medicine with any of the following medicines:

  • Clarithromycin
  • Dapsone
  • Doxorubicin
  • Flucytosine
  • Pyrazinamide
  • Pyrimethamine
  • Ribavirin
  • Stavudine
  • Vinblastine
  • Vincristine

Rarely and only when absolutely needed, this medicine may be used with the following medicines even if using them together may put you at risk of certain side effects.

In such cases, you may have to take the adjusted dose or change the frequency of intake.

  • Acetaminophen
  • Fluconazole
  • Interferon Beta-1a
  • Methadone
  • Nelfinavir
  • Probenecid
  • Rifabutin
  • Rifampin
  • Rifapentine
  • Tipranavir
  • Valproic Acid

Other Interactions: Taking your medicine together with certain foods or items such as alcohol or tobacco may cause undesirable interactions. Talk to your doctor to know if using this medicine with food, alcohol, or tobacco is safe.

Inform your doctor about the following conditions, if any:

  • Blood or bone marrow disorders such as anemia
  • Muscle disorders
  • Obesity: Use cautiously.
  • Kidney or Liver problems (such as hepatitis): Use cautiously.
  • Deficiency of folic acid or vitamin B12: May worsens anemia associated with folate or vitamin B12 deficiency.

3 Proper Usage

To use Retrovir properly, you must follow all instructions given by your doctor. Here are some points to consider:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions about the use of any medicine.
  • Read the patient information leaflet carefully and follow accordingly. If you have any query, ask your doctor.
  • Do not discontinue or skip the dose of any medicine without consulting your doctor.
  • You can also ask for zidovudine syrup if you cannot take the solid form of the medicine. Shake well before use and use medicine cup to measure the recommended dose.

Dosing: For best results, follow your doctor to know what amount of medicine you should take in a single dose. The doses of a medicine can differ according to the conditions for which it is being prescribed. Remember your doses can differ.

Consult your doctor if you have anything to ask. The doses for:

For HIV infection (capsules, solution, and tablets)

  • Adults: 600 milligrams (mg) per day in divided doses together with other antiviral medicine.
  • Children and infants 4 weeks and above: 18 to 24 mg per kg body weight per day or 600 mg per day or 480 mg per square meter of body surface area (BSA) a day in divided doses. Your child’s doctor will decide what dose is to be taken based on the body weight or body area.

For preventing transmission of HIV from pregnant women to the baby in the womb and at birth (capsules and solution):

  • Pregnant women: Starting at the 15th week of pregnancy, take 100 milligrams (mg) 5 times a day, 200 mg every 8 hours, or 300 mg every 12 hours until the start of labor.
  • Newborn infants (solution only): Starting within 8 to 12 hours after birth, take 2 mg per kg body weight every 6 hours until 6 weeks of age. Your doctor will decide what dose is to be taken based on the body weight.

Missed Dose: Take your missed dose once you remember but avoid it if it’s time to take your next dose, and follow your normal dosing schedule. Avoid taking double doses to make up for the missed dose.


  • Store in a closed container at room temperature.
  • Keep away from heat, moisture, and direct light.
  • Do not freeze.
  • Keep away from children.
  • Discard any unused or expired medicines.

4 Precautions to Take

Before using Retrovir, there are some precautions you must take. Your progress should be regularly monitored to determine if you are responding to the treatment. You may also need blood tests to detect any undesirable effects. Remember:

You may develop blood disorders causing increased risk of infections or delayed wound healing. Take care while brushing or flossing your teeth and consult your dentist to learn more about maintaining proper oral hygiene.

Consult your doctor immediately if you experience serious side effects indicating bone marrow complications, including fever, chills, or a sore throat, pale skin, and excessive tiredness. Your doctor may recommend you to undergo blood transfusions or discontinue taking zidovudine.

Consult your doctor immediately if you experience two or more of these symptoms indicating serious lactic acidosis (increased blood acidity) and liver injury:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Dark urine
  • Reduced hunger
  • Diarrhea
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Muscle cramps
  • Continuous nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Yellowish eyes or skin

Call your doctor immediately if notice symptoms that might have arisen due to a latent form of another disease (pneumonia or tuberculosis) after you began treatment with antiviral agents.

Zidovudine alters fat distribution in your body. Talk to your doctor immediately if you have increased fat deposition in the neck or upper back, face, around the chest, or abdomen.

Consult your doctor before taking any prescription or nonprescription medicines and herbal or vitamin supplements.

Zidovudine does not prevent the spread of HIV. HIV transmits through infected body fluids, including blood, vaginal fluid, or semen.

Here are some ways to prevent transmission of this infection:

  • Do not indulge in the unsafe sexual practice. Use condom whenever possible.
  • Do not use oil-based jelly, cold cream or baby oil with a condom.
  • Remember contraceptive measures other than condom do not protect you from HIV.
  • Do not use intravenous drugs. If you need to, do not share needles.

5 Potential Side Effects

Make sure you meet with your doctor in using Retrovir to avoid unwanted potential side effects.

Consult your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following side effects:

More common:


  • Upset stomach
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Mood problems
  • Muscle soreness
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness

Mild and non-serious side effects usually go away on their own without requiring medical intervention. You may also ask your doctor to learn more about how you may prevent or reduce the side effects.

Talk to your doctor if the side effects persist or worry you, including:

More common: 

  • Problem with bowel evacuation
  • Severe headache
  • Weakness
  • Muscular pain
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

Less common: 

  • Bluish-brown stripes on nails
  • Alteration of skin color

The side effects of the medicine are not limited to the ones listed above. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any side effects that are uncommon or worry you. To report side effects to the FDA, contact at 1-800-FDA-1088.