Precautions and Warnings With Zidovudine

There are many precautions and warnings with zidovudine to be aware of before starting treatment. For example, you should let your healthcare provider know if you have liver disease, kidney disease, or any low blood count or blood disorder prior to taking the drug. Precautions and warnings with zidovudine also extend to people who are allergic to any active or inactive ingredients used to make the medication.

Zidovudine: What Should I Tell My Healthcare Provider?

You should talk with your healthcare provider prior to taking zidovudine (Retrovir®) if you have:
  • Anemia, neutropenia, or any other low blood count or blood disorder
  • Liver disease, such as liver failure, cirrhosis, or hepatitis
  • Kidney disease, such as kidney failure (renal failure).
Also, let your healthcare provider know if you are:
  • Pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant
  • Breastfeeding.
You should also be sure to tell your healthcare provider about all other medicines you are taking, including prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

Specific Precautions and Warnings With Zidovudine

Warnings and precautions to be aware of prior to taking zidovudine include the following:
  • The medication can cause bone marrow depression, which means that it can decrease the bone marrow's ability to produce blood cells. This can lead to a variety of problems, such as anemia, frequent infections, or bleeding. Your healthcare provider should check your blood counts frequently while you are taking zidovudine.
  • In rare cases, zidovudine can cause a condition called lactic acidosis and hepatic steatosis. It is caused by damage to the liver and can be dangerous. You are at higher risk for this side effect if you are obese or have liver disease.
  • Zidovudine can cause muscle problems. Let your healthcare provider know if you develop muscle weakness or pain during treatment with the drug.
  • The medication can change the distribution of fat on your body. You may gain fat in areas that are not typical for you, such as in the abdomen or at the back of the neck (a "buffalo hump"), and may lose weight in other areas.
  • Zidovudine is not a cure for HIV or AIDS. If you have HIV or AIDS, you should always use safer sex practices, whether or not you are taking medications.
  • As with all HIV medications, it is important that you take zidovudine exactly as prescribed. Missing doses may increase the chance of the virus becoming resistant to HIV medications.
  • The kidneys help remove zidovudine from the blood. Therefore, if you have kidney disease, you may need a lower zidovudine dosage.


  • When you first start taking this medication and your immune system begins to recover, a group of problems known as immune reconstitution syndrome may occur. Your immune system may start aggressively reacting to any infections you may have and may cause extreme inflammation. There have even been cases of autoimmune disorders (such as Graves' disease, polymyositis, and Guillain-Barré syndrome) possibly caused by this problem. 


  • Zidovudine can interact with a number of different medications (see Drug Interactions With Zidovudine).
  • Zidovudine is considered a pregnancy Category C medication. This means that it may not be safe for use during pregnancy, although the full risks are not known (see Retrovir and Pregnancy).
  • Zidovudine passes through breast milk. Therefore, if you are breastfeeding or plan to start, discuss this with your healthcare provider prior to taking the drug (see Retrovir and Breastfeeding). It is important to understand that the HIV virus can be transmitted through breast milk and that breastfeeding is usually not recommended in women with HIV or AIDS.

AZT (Zidovudine) -- Drug Information

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