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What is Didanosine?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Jacquelyn Gilchrist

Didanosine is a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI) medication that is prescribed to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in patients who may or may not have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). While this drug cannot cure HIV, it may help to slow the progression of the disease by inhibiting the replication of the virus. It may also help delay the suppression of the immune system. The doctor will usually prescribe additional HIV medications for patients to use along with didanosine.

Patients will typically take didanosine once or twice daily on an empty stomach, at the same time each day. The extended-release capsules must be swallowed whole, as splitting them can cause too much of the drug to be released at once. In contrast, the tablet form must be well-chewed or completely dissolved in liquid before swallowing. Didanosine also comes in the form of a liquid, which must first be shaken and then measured accurately with a medicine cup. Patients taking the powder form of this drug must place the powder into a small glass of water, not juice or other liquids, and stir it until it is completely dissolved.


Some side effects from the use of didanosine require immediate medical care. These can include skin rash, hives, and numbness or tingling. Some patients may also experience chills, blurred vision, and problems seeing colors clearly. Problems swallowing or breathing, convulsions, and jaundice may also occur, along with unusual fatigue and swelling of the legs or feet. More mild side effects, such as diarrhea, muscle pain and headaches, should be reported to the doctor if they persist or become severe.

Patients should never use more of the drug than prescribed, however if an overdose does occur, they will need immediate medical help. Signs of a possible overdose can include stomach swelling, loss of appetite, and severe back pain. Lightheadedness, dizziness, and extreme fatigue may also occur. Some patients have noted a rapid, slow, or irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, or hyperventilation.

All other medical conditions should be disclosed before a patient is prescribed didanosine. This drug may be contraindicated for people with liver disease, pancreatitis, and kidney disease. It may also be dangerous for those with peripheral neuropathy or those who are obese. Didanosine is not expected to cause harm to an unborn baby, however, as of 2011, it is unknown whether it passes into breast milk.

The doctor should also ask the patient about other medications and supplements he is taking. Didanosine may interact with antacids, blood thinners, and chemotherapy drugs. Other HIV medicines, some antibiotics, and zinc supplements may also interact with it. In addition, patients must not consume alcohol while taking this drug.

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