Zidovudine for the treatment of HIV infection

This leaflet is for parents and carers about how to use this medicine in children. Our information may differ from that provided by the manufacturers, because their information usually relates to adults. Read this leaflet carefully. Keep it somewhere safe so that you can read it again.

It is very important that your child keeps taking Zidovudine and any other treatments recommended by your doctor regularly, to avoid the HIV virus becoming resistant to treatment. This medicine needs to be taken every day.

Name of medicine

Zidovudine (or azidothymidine, AZT)

Brand name: Retrovir

Some combination treatments also contain zidovudine (for example abacavir and combivir) but these are not covered by this leaflet.

Why is it important for my child to take Zidovudine?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a serious viral infection for children and adults. Zidovudine slows down the growth and spread of the HIV virus, to help slow the progression of the illness. Zidovudine is often used together with other medicines that work against HIV.

What is Zidovudine available as?

  • Capsules: 100 mg, 250 mg
  • Liquid medicine: 50 mg in 5 mL (sugar-free)

If you have any concerns or questions, speak with your child’s doctor or pharmacist.

When should I give Zidovudine

  • Zidovudine is usually given twice each day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Ideally, these times are 12 hours apart, for example some time between 7 and 8 am, and between 7 and 8 pm. You can give zidovudine before, with or after food.
  • It is important that the amount of zidovudine in your child’s blood remains steady, so try to spread the doses apart as evenly as you can.
  • Give the medicine at about the same times each day so that this becomes part of your child’s daily routine, which will help you to remember.

How much should I give?

Your doctor will work out the amount of Zidovudine (the dose) that is right for your child. The dose will be shown on the medicine label.

It is important that you follow your doctor’s instructions about how much to give.

How should I give Zidovudine?


  • Capsules should be swallowed with a glass of water, squash or juice. Your child should not chew the capsule.

Liquid medicine

  • Shake the medicine well. Measure out the right amount using an oral syringe or a medicine spoon. You can get these from your pharmacist. Do not use a kitchen teaspoon as it will not give the right amount.

It is important that you give your child the whole dose each time.

When should the medicine start working?

The medicine will start working straight away, although you will not see any difference in your child.

If you are not sure whether it is helping, discuss this with your doctor but continue to give the medicine.

What if my child is sick (vomits)?

  • If your child is sick less than 30 minutes after having a dose of Zidovudine, give them the same dose again.
  • If your child is sick more than 30 minutes after having a dose of Zidovudine, do not give them another dose. Wait until the next normal dose.

If your child is sick again, seek advice from your family doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or hospital. They will decide what to do based on your child’s condition and the specific medicine involved.

What if I forget to give it?

Zidovudine should be given twice each day. If you remember up to 6 hours after you should have given a dose, give your child the missed dose. For example, if you usually give a dose at about 7am, you can give the missed dose at any time up to 1pm. If you remember after that time, do not give the missed dose. Just give the next dose as usual.

Never give a double dose of Zidovudine.

What if I give too much?

You are unlikely to cause harm if you give an extra dose of Zidovudine by mistake. If you are concerned that you may have given too much, contact your doctor or local NHS services (details at end of leaflet). Have the medicine or packaging with you if you telephone for advice.

Are there any possible side effects?

We use medicines to make our children better, but sometimes they have other effects that we don’t want (side-effects). In general, children have fewer side-effects than adults from taking zidovudine.

Side effects you must do something about

Very rarely, Zidovudine can cause seizures (fits). If your child has a seizure, telephone for an ambulance. Do not restrain your child but try to make sure that they cannot hurt themselves (e.g. put a cushion under their head and move them away from furniture).

If your child gets pains or weakness in their arms or legs, has trouble breathing or has stomach pain with nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting (being sick), take them to your doctor or hospital straight away, as there may be a problem with your child’s blood (build-up of lactic acid).

If your child gets flu-like symptoms, sore throat, or unusual bleeding or bruising, contact your doctor, as there may be a problem with your child’s blood.

If your child starts being sick every few hours, has stomach pains, is very sleepy or has jaundice (the skin or eyes look yellow), take them to your doctor or hospital straight away, as there may be a problem with your child’s liver.

Other side-effects you need to know about

These side-effects are usually mild in children taking zidovudine, but if you are worried about any of them, contact your doctor.

  • Your child may have disturbances of taste (they may say food tastes funny), feel less hungry (lose their appetite), feel sick (nausea) or be sick (vomit) or have some diarrhoea. It may help to give zidovudine with some food or shortly afterwards.
  • Your child may be slightly breathless or have mild chest pain, feel dizzy, tired or light-headed, have changes in mood, or have difficulty sleeping. They may also seem less alert than usual and may say that they cannot think clearly.
  • Your child may notice a slight discolouration of their nails or skin, they may also get ‘pins and needles’ or say that their skin is itchy.
  • Your child may sweat more than usual or need to go to the toilet (wee) more often than usual.

There may sometimes be other side effects that are not listed above. If you notice anything unusual and are concerned, contact your doctor. You can report any suspected side effects to a UK safety scheme at

Can other medicines be given at the same time as Zidovudine?

  • You can give your child medicines that contain paracetamol, unless your doctor has told you not to.
  • Zidovudine should not be taken with medications containing ibuprofen.
  • Zidovudine should not be taken with some medicines. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any other medicines your child is taking before giving Zidovudine.
  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist before giving any other medicines to your child. This includes herbal and complementary medicines.

Is there anything else I need to know about this medicine?

It is very important that you keep your appointments for blood tests.

  • If your daughter thinks she may be pregnant, she should see her doctor as soon as possible but continue taking Zidovudine in the meantime.
  • Your doctor will test your child’s blood regularly to check that Zidovudine has not affected their liver, kidneys or blood.

General advice about medicines

  • Only give this medicine to your child. Never give it to anyone else, even if their condition appears to be the same, as this could do harm.
  • If you think someone else may have taken the medicine by accident, contact your doctor for advice.
  • Make sure that you always have enough medicine. Order a new prescription at least 2 weeks before you will run out.
  • Make sure that the medicines you have at home have not reached the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date on the packaging. Give old medicines to your pharmacist to dispose of.
  • If you are not sure a medicine is working, contact your doctor but continue to give the medicine as usual in the meantime. Do not give extra doses, as you may do harm.

Where should I keep this medicine?

  • Keep the medicine in a cupboard, away from heat and direct sunlight.
  • It does not need to be kept in the fridge.
  • Make sure that children cannot see or reach the medicine.
  • Keep the medicine in the container it came in.

Who to contact for more information?

Your child’s doctor, pharmacist or nurse will be able to give you more information about Zidovudine and about other medicines used to treat HIV.

England: NHS 111

Tel 111

Scotland: NHS 24

Northern Ireland: NI Direct

Wales: NHS Direct

Tel 111 (free) or 0845 46 47 (2p per minute)

Children's HIV Association (Chiva)

0117 905 5149

Copyright disclaimer

Version [1]. © NPPG, RCPCH and WellChild, all rights reserved. Review by August 2019.

The primary source for the information in this leaflet is the British National Formulary for Children. For details on any other sources used for this leaflet, please contact us through our website,

We take great care to make sure that the information in this leaflet is correct and up-to-date. However, medicines can be used in different ways for different patients. It is important that you ask the advice of your doctor or pharmacist if you are not sure about something. This leaflet is about the use of these medicines in the UK, and may not apply to other countries. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the Neonatal and Paediatric Pharmacists Group (NPPG), WellChild and the contributors and editors cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of information, omissions of information, or any actions that may be taken as a consequence of reading this leaflet.