Zidovudine toxicity. Clinical features and management

Drug Saf. 1993 Apr;8(4):312-20. doi: 10.2165/00002018-199308040-00005.


Zidovudine is a dideoxynucleoside analogue of thymidine. It acts by interfering with viral reverse transcriptase, thereby inhibiting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) replication. Zidovudine has been shown in clinical trials to prolong survival of patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and advanced AIDS-related complex (ARC), and to delay progression to ARC or AIDS in patients with earlier disease. At the present time it is suggested that zidovudine be initiated when the CD4 lymphocyte count is less than 500 cells/mm3. Recent studies have suggested a delay in the development of AIDS in patients with CD4 counts over 500 cells/mm3, but ongoing studies will require confirmation. The adverse reactions associated with zidovudine have been well described. It appears that haematological toxicity is associated with both the dose and stage of disease. Anaemia may present more often within the first 3 months of therapy, whereas neutropenia can occur early or late. Mild headache and gastrointestinal intolerance may occur early and in some cases limit tolerance to the drug. A number of neurological adverse reactions have been reported rarely including seizures and dose-reduction encephalopathy. The most significant late adverse reaction is that of myopathy, which occurs in patients receiving zidovudine for more than 6 months. With careful monitoring, the adverse reactions of zidovudine are manageable and patient tolerance of the medication is acceptable.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Zidovudine / adverse effects*
  • Zidovudine / toxicity


  • Zidovudine