Tenofovir for HIV (Viread)

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Tenofovir is an antiviral medicine. You will have been prescribed it for HIV infection.

It is one of a number of medicines that you will need to take regularly. It is important to take it every day.

The most common side-effects are feeling sick, feeling dizzy, diarrhoea, and skin rash.

About tenofovir for HIV

Type of medicineA nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor antiretroviral medicine
Used forHuman immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in adults and children
Also calledViread®
Combination brands are: Truvada® (tenofovir with emtricitabine); Atripla® (tenofovir with emtricitabine and efavirenz); Eviplera® (tenofovir with emtricitabine and rilpivirine); Genvoya® (tenofovir with cobicistat and elvitegravir and emtricitabin); Stribild® (tenofovir with cobicistat and elvitegravir and emtricitabin)
Available asTablets and granules

Tenofovir is an antiviral medicine. It is prescribed for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. It slows the progress of HIV infection, but it is not a cure. HIV destroys cells in the body, called CD4 T cells. These cells are a type of white blood cell and are important because they are involved in protecting your body from infection. If left untreated, the HIV infection weakens your immune system so that your body cannot defend itself against bacteria, viruses and other germs. Tenofovir slows down the progress of HIV infection by reducing the amount of virus in your body. It does this by stopping the virus from copying (replicating) itself.

Tenofovir will be prescribed for you by a doctor who is a specialist. It belongs to a group of antiretroviral medicines known as nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs). It is given alongside a number of other antiretroviral medicines, as part of a combination therapy. Taking three or more antiretroviral medicines at the same time is more effective than taking one alone. Taking a combination of different medicines also reduces the risk that the virus will become resistant to any individual medicine. Some brands of tenofovir tablet contain one or more other antiretroviral medicine (see the list in the table above) - these combination brands help to reduce the total number of tablets you need to take each day. Not all of the information in this leaflet applies to the combination brands, so please refer to the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack for full details. It is vital to take your antiretroviral medicines exactly as prescribed to maintain success and to help to prevent the virus from becoming resistant to the medicines. These medicines are usually taken for life.

Tenofovir is also prescribed for another viral infection - there is more information about this in a separate medicine leaflet called Tenofovir for hepatitis B infection.

Before taking tenofovir 

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine can only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking tenofovir it is important that your doctor knows:

  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding.
  • If you have any problems with the way your liver works, or if you have problems with the way your kidneys work.
  • If you drink a lot of alcohol.
  • If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines which are available to buy without a prescription, as well as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.

How to take tenofovir for HIV

  • Before you start the treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside your pack. It will give you more information about tenofovir, and it will also provide you with a full list of the side-effects which you could experience from taking it.
  • Take tenofovir exactly as your doctor tells you to. For adults, the usual dose is one 245 mg tablet daily. Children will be prescribed a lower-strength tablet depending upon their age and weight. For anyone who is unable to take tablets (such as young children) tenofovir is also available as granules. These are measured out using the dosing scoop provided, and then taken mixed into a soft food such as yoghurt, apple sauce or baby food. Mix each scoopful of granules with a tablespoon (15 ml) of food. Do not chew the granules/food mixture as you swallow it as it will taste bitter. Please note, the granules must not be mixed with liquids or drinks. Your doctor will advise you about how many scoopfuls of granules you (or your child) should take for each dose.
  • Swallow the tablet whole with a drink of water. If you have difficulty swallowing tablets, please let your doctor know about this as it may be more suitable for you to be prescribed tenofovir as granules. In the meantime, if necessary, you can crush the tablet and add it to half a glass of water, orange juice or grape juice, providing you swallow it straightaway.
  • Take tenofovir tablets with a meal or a snack. (However, if you have been prescribed the combination brand Atripla®, these tablets should be taken when your stomach is empty, which means taking them one hour before any food or waiting until two hours afterwards.)
  • Try to take tenofovir at the same time of day each day, as this will help you to remember to take it regularly.
  • If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember, providing it is within the next 12 hours. If it is more than 12 hours later when you remember, leave out the missed dose but do remember to take your next dose when it is due. Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.
  • Keep your regular appointments with your doctor so that your progress can be monitored. You will need to have regular blood tests to check how well your medicines are working.
  • It is important that you continue to take tenofovir and your other antiretroviral treatment regularly. This will help to prevent the HIV from becoming resistant to the medicines you are taking. Even if you miss only a small number of doses, the virus can become resistant to treatment.
  • If you develop an infection soon after you start the treatment, let your doctor know. As a result of taking tenofovir, your immune system may start fighting an infection which was present before you started the treatment, but which you may not have been aware of.
  • Follow carefully any advice your doctor gives to you about making lifestyle changes to reduce any risk of damage to your heart and blood vessels. These can include stopping smoking, eating healthily and taking regular exercise.
  • Some people taking antiretroviral medicines develop changes to the way body fat is distributed in the body. This can result in changes to body image. Your doctor will discuss the possibility of this with you.
  • Although treatment with antiretroviral medicines may reduce the risk of you passing HIV to others through sexual contact, it does not stop it. It is important that you use condoms.
  • It is not uncommon for people with HIV to feel low or even depressed, especially soon after the diagnosis has been made and treatment has been started. If you have any feelings of depression, or any distressing thoughts about harming yourself then you should speak with your doctor straightaway.
  • Tenofovir has been associated with a serious side-effect in some people who have taken it. This is known as lactic acidosis. It is a problem where there is too much lactic acid in the blood. The symptoms associated with it are listed in the next section 'Can tenofovir cause problems?'. If you develop any of the symptoms listed below, you must let your doctor know straightaway, as they can worsen, and may even become life-threatening.
  • Some people who have taken antiretroviral medicines (particularly over a long time) have developed a condition called osteonecrosis. This is a bone disease where bone tissue dies because there is a reduced blood supply to it. It leads to joint pains and stiffness, and can cause difficulties in movement. If you notice any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor.
  • If you buy any medicines, supplements or herbal remedies 'over the counter', check with a pharmacist that they are suitable to take with tenofovir and your other medicines. This is because some medicines interfere with antiretrovirals and can stop them from working properly.
  • If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.
  • Treatment for HIV is usually lifelong. Continue to take tenofovir regularly for as long as your doctor tells you to, even if you feel well. This is to keep your immune system healthy.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains some of the most common ones associated with tenofovir. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. You should, however, speak with your doctor if you develop any of the following side-effects. This is because some of the common side-effects of tenofovir are similar to the symptoms of lactic acidosis - a less common but more serious problem.

Very common tenofovir side-effects (these affect more than 1 in 10 people)
What can I do if I experience this?
Feeling dizzy, weak or tiredDo not drive and do not use tools or machines while affected. If this continues, speak with your doctor
Feeling or being sickStick to simple meals - avoid fatty or spicy food. If it continues, speak with your doctor
DiarrhoeaDrink plenty of water to replace lost fluids
Skin rashIf troublesome, speak with your doctor
Common tenofovir side-effects (these affect less than 1 in 10 people)What can I do if I experience this?
Tummy (abdominal) pain, windIf troublesome, speak with your doctor
HeadacheAsk your doctor or pharmacist to recommend a suitable painkiller
Changes to some blood testsYour doctor will check for these

Your doctor will discuss with you the possibility of lactic acidosis occurring. Let your doctor know straightaway if you develop any of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling or being sick, tummy (abdominal) pain, loss of appetite, loss of weight, feeling weak or dizzy, and fast or gasping breathing.

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to the medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital at once. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Adrian Bonsall
Document ID:
28505 (v2)
Last Checked:
27/07/2016
Next Review:
27/07/2019
The Information Standard - certified member

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