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What is Tenofovir?

By Donn Saylor
Updated May 17, 2024
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Tenofovir is a commonly prescribed drug for HIV treatment. It is used in conjunction with other antiviral drugs as part of antiretroviral therapy. Marketed under the brand name Viread®, it is manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. Tenofovir is a reverse transcriptase inhibitor and aims to delay the spread of HIV within the body.

This type of HIV medication works in the systems of the body by being converted into a chemical that stops the virus from infecting healthy cells. It does not, however, eradicate or slow the effects of HIV on cells that are already infected. Unlike many other HIV medications, which require a three-step chemical reaction process, tenofovir necessitates only a two-step process in order to function. Tenofovir possesses a negative charge, which permits the drug to stay in the body for longer periods of time, and, as a result, only has to be taken once per day.

Because tenofovir exits the body through the kidneys, evidence has suggested that the drug — especially when used in combination with other HIV drugs — may cause serious liver ailments. Lactic acidosis is the most commonly reported liver problem associated with tenofovir. In general, liver issues are only a serious risk when a patient is a heavy drinker or has a history of liver disease.

Tenofovir comes in pill form and is taken orally. It is available in a 300 mg tablet. Doctors advise taking tenofovir with a meal that is high in fat as this will help the medication achieve higher levels of concentration in the blood. Tenofovir is taken as part of antiretroviral therapy, and health experts stress that the drug should be taken every day as directed; patients are advised to take the drug even if they are feeling better.

Patients who are prescribed tenofovir might undergo therapeutic drug monitoring to observe the medication's behavior in the system. Through the procedure of liquid chemotherapy, the patient's blood plasma is periodically tested to ensure the drug is not amassing itself in toxic levels. This is especially beneficial for patients who have a history of liver- or kidney-related problems.

Tenofovir is often taken with emtrictabine as a fixed-dose combination and sold under the name Truvada®. It may also be prescribed as a fixed-dose triple combination when tenofovir and emtrictabine are combined with the drug efavirenz. This triple-dose form is sold under the brand name Atripla®. Atripla® is taken just once daily and offers a welcome alternative to taking huge amounts of medications throughout the day.

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