Zidovudine (azidothymidine) is a thymidine analogue antiretroviral drug active against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and AIDS-related complex (ARC) patients, orally and intravenously administered zidovudine is effective in reducing the incidence of opportunistic infections and neoplasms, increasing helper T lymphocyte numbers, and improving survival rates and quality of life. Adverse effects include serious haematological abnormalities and severe headache, abdominal discomfort, nausea, myalgia and insomnia. In addition, neutropenia and other anaemias frequently limit zidovudine therapy and may result in a need for multiple blood transfusions, dose reductions or withdrawal of the drug. However, despite these problems and the lack of information about some aspects of zidovudine use, zidovudine provides a major hope for HIV-infected patients, and it has rapidly become the standard therapy for improving the quality and duration of the lives of AIDS and ARC patients.