What is Zidovudine?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Zidovudine is one of the most frequently used medications to combat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It is usually given in combination with one or more other drugs to stop the spread of the virus and strengthen the body's immune system. Zidovudine is available in capsule, tablet, and syrup form, and it is usually prescribed to be taken twice daily. There are risks of experiencing side effects and secondary health problems with long term use, including a muscle disorder called lactic acidosis. Doctors closely monitor patients during treatment to help reduce the chances of serious side effects.

Many HIV drugs, including zidovudine, are categorized as nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs). Reverse transcriptase is an enzyme that HIV uses to synthesize RNA strands into replicable DNA strands, thus allowing the virus to rapidly multiply inside the human body. NRTIs such as zidovudine inhibit the enzyme from starting the synthesis process, thereby preventing viral reproduction. Other HIV drugs taken in combination with NRTIs perform other functions to further slow the spread of HIV, kill existing viral strains, and boost natural immune defenses. Attacking the virus in many different ways provides the best chances of suppressing it and preventing serious complications.


Most adult patients are instructed to take one 300 milligram tablet or capsule of zidovudine with their other medications twice a day. Children with HIV and people who do not like taking pills can take similar-sized doses of strawberry-flavored zidovudine syrup. A doctor might adjust exact dosage amounts several times during treatment to find an optimal level. It is essential for people to remember to take their medications on schedule to achieve the maximum effects.

The most common short-term side effects associated with zidovudine are headaches, dizziness, nausea, and stomach cramps. Some patients also experience difficulty sleeping, weight loss, and fever. Long-term use of the drug can raise levels of lactic acid in the bloodstream, which can lead to chronic muscle pain and weakness. Anemia, pancreatitis, hepatitis, or skin ulcers may develop as well.

Zidovudine may react adversely with certain prescription and over-the-counter medications. It is essential for a patient to consult with his or her doctor before taking any other drug during HIV treatment to make sure it is safe. People who follow their doctors' instructions and attend all of their scheduled medical checkups have the best chances of successfully managing HIV symptoms and enjoying active, fulfilling lifestyles despite their lifelong affliction.


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