Lamivudine is an antiviral drug used primarily to treat patients with AIDS. This medication, taken orally in either pill or liquid form, works by slowing down the virus and limiting how quickly it reproduces in the body. It is not a cure, but can help keep the disease from progressing as fast as it normally would. It can also be used as a preventive measure to avoid infection in those accidentally exposed to the virus. Hepatitis B is sometimes treated using lamivudine too.
When used for the treatment of AIDS, lamivudine is often prescribed with other medications and works in conjunction with them to inhibit viral growth. The drug is part of a group known as nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, or nRTIs, which block the reproductive functions of virus. Another nRTI, zidovudine, is one of the most common drugs to combine with lamivudine.
Treatment of hepatitis B typically requires smaller amounts of lamivudine than treatment of AIDS. The drug works in the same way, blocking reproduction of the virus to slow the disease's progress. In some cases, using it for long periods of time has led to a mutation of the virus that is resistant to treatment, but the benefits of using the drug are generally considered to outweigh this risk.
Patients using lamivudine should be careful to take doses consistently as directed; if a dose is missed, it is important to quickly get back on schedule. Users should be sure to notify their doctors of any other medications or supplements they are taking, as interactions can affect how it works. People with certain existing medical conditions and pregnant women should speak to their doctors about them before taking the drug.
A variety of side effects may be experienced while taking lamivudine. Digestive issues such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may occur. Patients may have difficulty sleeping. They may have headaches, congestion, and cough. Some people may feel depressed or lose their appetite.
One potentially serious complication of taking lamivudine is a condition known as lactic acidosis, where lactic acid is not flushed from the body quickly enough and so builds up in the bloodstream. This effect can cause severe damage to the liver and may even become fatal if not addressed quickly. Due to this possible problem, one's doctor will typically monitor a patient's response to the drug closely. Patients who notice side effects indicating lactic acidosis, such as yellowing of the eyes or skin, dark colored urine, or excessive fatigue, should speak to their doctor immediately.