Drug Information Medical Encyclopedia

abacavir

What is abacavir?

Abacavir is an antiviral medicine that prevents human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from multiplying in your body.Abacavir is used to treat HIV, the virus that can cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). This medicine is for adults and children who are at least 3 months old. Abacavir is not a cure for HIV or AIDS.

Abacavir may also be used for purposes not listed in this medication guide.

What is the most important information I should know about abacavir?

You should not take this medicine if you have ever had an allergic reaction to any medicine that contains abacavir, or if you have moderate to severe liver disease.

Stop using abacavir and call your doctor at once if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction: fever; rash; nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain; general ill feeling, extreme tiredness, body aches; shortness of breath, cough, sore throat.

This medicine may cause a serious condition called lactic acidosis. Get emergency medical help if you have even mild symptoms such as: muscle pain or weakness, numb or cold feeling in your arms and legs, trouble breathing, stomach pain, nausea with vomiting, fast or uneven heart rate, dizziness, or feeling very weak or tired.

Abacavir can also cause severe or life-threatening effects on your liver. Call your doctor at once if you have any of these symptoms while taking abacavir: pain in your upper stomach, itching, loss of appetite, dark urine, clay-colored stools, or jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes).

What should I discuss with my healthcare provider before taking abacavir?

You should not use abacavir if you have had an allergic reaction to any medicine that contains abacavir (Ziagen, Epzicom, Triumeq, or Trizivir).

Abacavir can also cause severe or life-threatening effects on your liver. You should not take abacavir if you have moderate or severe liver disease.

Many combination HIV medicines have abacavir as an ingredient. Ziagen should not be taken together with any other medicine that contains abacavir.

Some people taking abacavir develop a serious condition called lactic acidosis. This may be more likely in women, in people who are overweight or have liver disease, and in people who have taken HIV/AIDS medication for a long time. Talk with your doctor about your risk.

To make sure abacavir is safe for you, tell your doctor if you have:

  • heart disease, high blood pressure;
  • a gene variation called HLA-B*5701 allele (your doctor will test you for this);
  • liver disease;
  • a risk factor for heart disease such as smoking, diabetes, or high cholesterol; or
  • if you have used any other HIV medication in the past.

It is not known whether abacavir will harm an unborn baby. HIV can be passed to your baby if you are not properly treated during pregnancy. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant during treatment. Take all of your HIV medicines as directed to control your infection.

If you are pregnant, your name may be listed on a pregnancy registry. This is to track the outcome of the pregnancy and to evaluate any effects of abacavir on the baby.

Women with HIV or AIDS should not breast feed a baby. Even if your baby is born without HIV, the virus may be passed to the baby in your breast milk.

How should I take abacavir?

Follow all directions on your prescription label. Do not take this medicine in larger or smaller amounts or for longer than recommended.

Abacavir comes with a Medication Guide and a Warning Card that lists the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Read this information carefully and carry the Warning Card with you at all times so you will know what symptoms to watch for.

Abacavir can be taken with or without food.

Measure liquid medicine with the dosing syringe provided, or with a special dose-measuring spoon or medicine cup. If you do not have a dose-measuring device, ask your pharmacist for one.

While using abacavir, you may need frequent blood tests.

Use abacavir regularly to get the most benefit. Get your prescription refilled before you run out of medicine completely.

HIV/AIDS is usually treated with a combination of drugs. Use all medications as directed by your doctor. Read the medication guide or patient instructions provided with each medication. Do not change your doses or medication schedule without your doctor’s advice. Every person with HIV or AIDS should remain under the care of a doctor.

Store at room temperature away from moisture and heat.

You may store the oral solution (liquid) in the refrigerator but do not let it freeze.

Read all patient information, medication guides, and instruction sheets provided to you. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Take the missed dose as soon as you remember. Skip the missed dose if it is almost time for your next scheduled dose. Do not take extra medicine to make up the missed dose.

Do not allow your medicine to run out completely before you get your prescription refilled. It is important that you not stop taking abacavir once you have started. If you miss several doses, you may have a dangerous or even fatal allergic reaction once you start taking abacavir again.

What happens if I overdose?

Seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.

What should I avoid while taking abacavir?

Avoid drinking alcohol. It may increase your risk of liver damage.

Taking this medicine will not prevent you from passing HIV to other people. Do not have unprotected sex or share razors or toothbrushes. Talk with your doctor about safe ways to prevent HIV transmission during sex. Sharing drug or medicine needles is never safe, even for a healthy person.

Abacavir side effects

Stop using abacavir and call your doctor at once if you have symptoms of an allergic reaction from two or more of these specific side effect groups:

  • Group 1 – fever;
  • Group 2 – rash;
  • Group 3 – nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain;
  • Group 4 – general ill feeling, extreme tiredness, body aches;
  • Group 5 – shortness of breath, cough, sore throat.

Once you have had an allergic reaction to abacavir, you must never use it again. If you stop taking abacavir for any reason, talk to your doctor before you start taking the medication again.

Abacavir can cause other serious side effects that may not be signs of an allergic reaction. Call your doctor at once if you have:

  • the first sign of any skin rash, no matter how mild;
  • chest pain or pressure, pain spreading to your jaw or shoulder;
  • severe pain in your upper stomach spreading to your back, nausea and vomiting, fast heart rate; or
  • liver problems–nausea, swelling around your midsection, upper stomach pain, unusual tiredness, loss of appetite, dark urine, clay-colored stools, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes).

Early symptoms of lactic acidosis may get worse over time and this condition can be fatal. Get emergency medical help if you have even mild symptoms: muscle pain or weakness, numb or cold feeling in your arms and legs, trouble breathing, stomach pain, nausea with vomiting, fast or uneven heart rate, dizziness, or feeling very weak or tired.

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Abacavir may increase your risk of certain infections or autoimmune disorders by changing the way your immune system works. Symptoms may occur weeks or months after you start treatment with abacavir. Tell your doctor if you have:

  • signs of a new infection–fever, night sweats, swollen glands, mouth sores, diarrhea, stomach pain, weight loss;
  • chest pain (especially when you breathe), dry cough, wheezing, feeling short of breath;
  • cold sores, sores on your genital or anal area;
  • rapid heart rate, feeling anxious or irritable, weakness or prickly feeling, problems with balance or eye movement;
  • trouble speaking or swallowing, severe lower back pain, loss of bladder or bowel control; or
  • swelling in your neck or throat (enlarged thyroid), menstrual changes, impotence, loss of interest in sex.

Common side effects may include:

  • sleep problems, strange dreams;
  • headache, tiredness, fever, chills, general ill feeling;
  • nausea or vomiting;
  • changes in the shape or location of body fat (especially in your arms, legs, face, neck, breasts, and waist); or
  • (in children) stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, ear pain.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

Abacavir dosing information

Usual Adult Dose for HIV Infection:

300 mg orally twice a day or 600 mg orally once a day

Use: In combination with other antiretroviral agents, for the treatment of HIV-1 infection

Usual Adult Dose for Nonoccupational Exposure:

US CDC recommendations: 300 mg orally twice a day or 600 mg orally once a day
Duration of therapy: 28 days

Comments:
-Recommended as part of alternative regimens (NNRTI-based, protease inhibitor-based, or triple NRTI) for nonoccupational postexposure prophylaxis of HIV infection
-Prophylaxis should be started as soon as possible, within 72 hours of exposure.
-Current guidelines should be consulted for additional information.

Usual Adult Dose for Occupational Exposure:

US Public Health Service working group recommendations: 300 mg orally twice a day or 600 mg orally once a day
Duration of therapy: 28 days, if tolerated

Comments:
-Only with expert consultation, as part of an alternative regimen for use as HIV postexposure prophylaxis
-Prophylaxis should be started as soon as possible, preferably within hours after exposure.
-The optimal duration of prophylaxis is unknown and may differ based on institution protocol.
-Current guidelines should be consulted for additional information.

Usual Pediatric Dose for HIV Infection:

3 months or older:
Oral solution: 8 mg/kg orally twice a day or 16 mg/kg orally once a day
Maximum dose: 600 mg/day

Tablets:
14 to less than 20 kg: 150 mg orally twice a day or 300 mg orally once a day
20 to less than 25 kg: 150 mg orally in the morning and 300 mg in the evening, or 450 mg orally once a day
25 kg or more: 300 mg orally twice a day or 600 mg orally once a day

Use: In combination with other antiretroviral agents, for the treatment of HIV-1 infection

What other drugs will affect abacavir?

Tell your doctor about all your current medicines and any you start or stop using, especially:

  • methadone; or
  • any other HIV medicines.

This list is not complete. Other drugs may interact with abacavir, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Not all possible interactions are listed in this medication guide.

In Summary

Commonly reported side effects of abacavir include: arthralgia, cough, fatigue, lethargy, myalgia, pruritus, vomiting, chills, and malaise. Other side effects include: hypersensitivity, pharyngitis, and tachypnea. See below for a comprehensive list of adverse effects.

For the Consumer

Applies to abacavir: oral solution, oral tablet

In addition to its needed effects, some unwanted effects may be caused by abacavir. In the event that any of these side effects do occur, they may require medical attention.

Major Side Effects

You should check with your doctor immediately if any of these side effects occur when taking abacavir:

Less common:

  • Abdominal or stomach pain
  • cough
  • diarrhea
  • difficult or labored breathing
  • fever
  • headache
  • joint or muscle pain
  • nausea
  • numbness or tingling of the hands, feet, or face
  • redness and soreness of the eyes
  • skin rash
  • sore throat
  • sores in the mouth
  • swelling of the feet or lower legs
  • unusual feeling of discomfort or illness
  • unusual tiredness
  • vomiting

Rare

  • Abdominal or stomach swelling
  • decreased appetite
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • sleepiness

Incidence not known:

  • Blistering, peeling, or loosening of the skin
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • chills
  • dark urine
  • itching
  • light-colored stools
  • pain or discomfort in the arms, jaw, back, or neck
  • red, irritated eyes
  • red skin lesions, often with a purple center
  • sores, ulcers, or white spots in the mouth or on the lips
  • sweating
  • unusual weakness
  • upper right abdominal or stomach pain
  • yellow eyes and skin

Minor Side Effects

Some of the side effects that can occur with abacavir may not need medical attention. As your body adjusts to the medicine during treatment these side effects may go away. Your health care professional may also be able to tell you about ways to reduce or prevent some of these side effects. If any of the following side effects continue, are bothersome or if you have any questions about them, check with your health care professional:

More common:

  • Headache

Less common:

  • Trouble sleeping

Incidence not known:

  • Breast enlargement
  • buffalo hump
  • central obesity
  • facial wasting
  • gaining weight around your neck, upper back, breast, face, or waist
  • peripheral wasting

For Healthcare Professionals

Applies to abacavir: oral solution, oral tablet

General

In 1 study, patients receiving the once-daily regimen had a significantly higher incidence of severe drug hypersensitivity reactions and severe diarrhea than patients on the twice-daily regimen.

Many of the side effects listed occurred commonly in patients with abacavir hypersensitivity (e.g., nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, lethargy, rash).

Hypersensitivity

Common (1% to 10%): Drug hypersensitivity, hypersensitivity reaction (including fever, rash [maculopapular, urticarial], nausea, vomiting, malaise, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, myalgia, achiness, abdominal pain, pharyngitis, dyspnea, cough, lethargy, myolysis, edema, elevated liver function tests, mucous membrane lesions [conjunctivitis, mouth ulceration], sore throat, adult respiratory distress syndrome, respiratory failure, lymphadenopathy, hypotension, anaphylaxis, paresthesia, lymphopenia, hepatitis, liver failure, arthralgia, elevated creatine phosphokinase, elevated creatinine, renal failure, erythema multiforme, abnormal chest x-ray findings [mainly localized infiltrates], death)
Frequency not reported: Serious and sometimes fatal hypersensitivity reactions, abacavir hypersensitivity reaction presenting as acute fibrinous and organizing pneumonia

Serious and sometimes fatal hypersensitivity reactions have been reported with this drug. Such reactions have included multi-organ failure and anaphylaxis and usually occurred within the first 6 weeks of therapy (median onset: 9 to 11 days); however, abacavir hypersensitivity reactions have occurred any time during therapy.

Patients with the human leukocyte antigen subtype B*5701 (HLA-B*5701) allele are at higher risk of hypersensitivity reactions to this drug; however, such reactions have occurred in patients without the HLA-B*5701 allele. Abacavir hypersensitivity was reported in about 8% of patients in 9 clinical trials with abacavir-containing products where patients were not screened for the HLA-B*5701 allele; incidence of suspected abacavir hypersensitivity reactions was 1% in clinical trials where HLA-B*5701 carriers were excluded.

Abacavir hypersensitivity reactions have been characterized by at least 2 of the following key signs/symptoms: (1) fever; (2) rash; (3) gastrointestinal symptoms (including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain); (4) constitutional symptoms (including generalized malaise, fatigue, achiness); (5) respiratory symptoms (including dyspnea, cough, pharyngitis). Almost all reactions have included fever and/or rash (usually maculopapular or urticarial); however, reactions also reported without fever or rash. Signs/symptoms reported in at least 10% of patients with hypersensitivity reaction have included rash, nausea, vomiting, malaise, diarrhea, headache, fatigue/lethargy, abdominal pain, dyspnea, cough, fever, elevated liver function tests, and myalgia. Other signs/symptoms of hypersensitivity have included mouth ulceration, sore throat, adult respiratory distress syndrome, respiratory failure, edema, lymphadenopathy, hypotension, conjunctivitis, anaphylaxis, paresthesia, lymphopenia, hepatitis, liver failure, myolysis, arthralgia, elevated creatine phosphokinase, elevated creatinine, renal failure, abnormal chest x-ray findings (mainly infiltrates, which were localized), and death.

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Symptoms of abacavir hypersensitivity reaction worsened with continued therapy and generally resolved when this drug was discontinued. Restarting this drug after a hypersensitivity reaction has resulted in more severe symptoms within hours and included life-threatening hypotension and death. Rarely, life-threatening reactions have occurred within hours after restarting this drug in patients who stopped it for reasons other than symptoms of hypersensitivity (or who stopped it with only 1 key symptom of hypersensitivity).

In 1 case report, a 57-year-old HIV-positive male presented to medical attention with a 2-day history of fever, malaise, and diarrhea related to initiation of this drug. Six days prior to the onset of symptoms, the patient’s antiretroviral therapy was switched from efavirenz and lamivudine-zidovudine to zidovudine, abacavir, and lopinavir-ritonavir after a drop in his CD4 cell count. The patient developed acute dyspnea and severe hypoxemia, hemoptysis, and diffuse bilateral pulmonary infiltrates within 72 hours of admission and this drug was discontinued due to suspicion of a hypersensitivity reaction. Three days after drug discontinuation, the patient’s status improved and chest films showed resolution of infiltrates.

Gastrointestinal

Pancreatitis was observed in the expanded access program.

Very common (10% or more): Nausea (up to 47%), nausea and vomiting (up to 38%), diarrhea (up to 16%)
Common (1% to 10%): Abdominal pain/gastritis/gastrointestinal signs and symptoms, vomiting, abdominal discomfort and pain, abnormal amylase
Rare (0.01% to 0.1%): Pancreatitis

Other

Very common (10% or more): Malaise and fatigue (up to 34%), temperature regulation disturbance (up to 19%)
Common (1% to 10%): Fever/pyrexia, lethargy, fatigue, fatigue/malaise, fever and/or chills
Uncommon (0.1% to 1%): Non-site-specific pain
Frequency not reported: Asthenia, reduced alcohol tolerance, disulfiram-like reaction

In 1 case report, a 31-year-old HIV-infected male patient switched to this drug and experienced a disulfiram-like reaction with nausea, facial flushing, and tachycardia after alcohol consumption. When the patient was rechallenged with a shot of vodka, the same reaction occurred.

In another case, a 27-year-old HIV-infected male patient switched to this drug and noticed reduced alcohol tolerance. The patient reported that he felt as if he had ingested 1.5 bottles of wine after 3 glasses, with loss of memory until the next morning and vomiting. The patient was able to tolerate small quantities of alcohol or alcohol consumed with food.

Nervous system

Very common (10% or more): Headache (up to 31%)
Common (1% to 10%): Headaches/migraine, dizziness, neuropathy

Respiratory

Very common (10% or more): Cough (up to 24%), ear/nose/throat infections (up to 19%), nasal signs/symptoms (up to 11%)
Common (1% to 10%): Viral respiratory infections (including viral ear, nose, and throat infection), bronchitis
Frequency not reported: Tachypnea, pharyngitis

Musculoskeletal

Elevated creatine phosphokinase (greater than 4 times the upper limit of normal [4 x ULN]) has been reported in up to 8% of patients.

Very common (10% or more): Elevated creatine phosphokinase (up to 12%)
Common (1% to 10%): Musculoskeletal pain

Combination antiretroviral therapy:
-Frequency not reported: Osteonecrosis

Dermatologic

Very common (10% or more): Skin rashes (maculopapular, urticarial, or variable appearance; up to 11%)
Common (1% to 10%): Rash (without systemic symptoms)
Frequency not reported: Sweet’s syndrome
Very rare (less than 0.01%): Stevens-Johnson syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis, erythema multiforme

Suspected Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) and toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) have been reported during postmarketing experience in patients using this drug primarily in combination with agents known to be associated with SJS and TEN, respectively.

Cases of erythema multiforme, SJS, or TEN have been reported very rarely when abacavir hypersensitivity could not be ruled out.

Metabolic

Very common (10% or more): Feeding problems (up to 11%)
Common (1% to 10%): Hypertriglyceridemia, hyperamylasemia, anorexia, abnormal triglycerides, hyperlactatemia
Uncommon (0.1% to 1%): Hyperglycemia, abnormal alkaline phosphatase, abnormal glucose, abnormal sodium
Rare (0.01% to 0.1%): Lactic acidosis
Frequency not reported: Mild elevations of blood glucose, hypoglycemia, loss of appetite
Postmarketing reports: Redistribution/accumulation of body fat (including central obesity, dorsocervical fat enlargement, peripheral wasting, facial wasting, breast enlargement, “cushingoid appearance”)

Combination antiretroviral therapy:
-Frequency not reported: Metabolic abnormalities (e.g., hypertriglyceridemia, hypercholesterolemia, insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, hyperlactatemia)

Hypertriglyceridemia (greater than 750 mg/dL), hyperamylasemia (greater than 2 x ULN), and hyperglycemia (greater than 13.9 mmol/L) have been reported in up to 6%, up to 4%, and less than 1% of patients, respectively.

Lactic acidosis and severe hepatomegaly with steatosis (including fatal cases) have been reported with the use of nucleoside analogs.

Psychiatric

Very common (10% or more): Dreams/sleep disorders (10%)
Common (1% to 10%): Depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, insomnia, abnormal dreams
Frequency not reported: Mania, worsening of preexisting depression, lethargy

Hepatic

Common (1% to 10%): Elevated ALT, elevated AST
Uncommon (0.1% to 1%): Abnormal bilirubin
Frequency not reported: Increased GGT, severe hepatomegaly with steatosis
Postmarketing reports: Hepatic steatosis

Elevated ALT (greater than 5 x ULN) and AST (greater than 5 x ULN) have been reported in 6% and up to 6% of patients, respectively.

The reported frequencies were similar to those observed during clinical trials with zidovudine and lamivudine administration.

Increased GGT was observed in the expanded access program.

Lactic acidosis and severe hepatomegaly with steatosis (including fatal cases) have been reported with the use of nucleoside analogs.

Hematologic

Neutropenia (absolute neutrophil count less than 750/mm3), thrombocytopenia (platelets less than 50,000/mm3), anemia (hemoglobin 6.9 g/dL or less), and leukopenia (WBC 1500/mm3 or less) have been reported in up to 5%, 1%, less than 1%, and less than 1% of patients, respectively.

The reported frequencies were similar to those observed during clinical trials with zidovudine and lamivudine administration.
Agranulocytosis has been reported after the addition of this drug to a multi-drug regimen.

Common (1% to 10%): Neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, decreased white cells, abnormal absolute neutrophils
Uncommon (0.1% to 1%): Anemia, leukopenia, abnormal hemoglobin, abnormal platelets, abnormal WBC
Rare (less than 0.1%): Eosinophilia
Frequency not reported: Agranulocytosis, increased platelet reactivity

Renal

Uncommon (0.1% to 1%): Renal signs/symptoms, abnormal creatinine
Frequency not reported: Acute renal failure, interstitial nephritis[

Immunologic

Frequency not reported: Immune reconstitution/reactivation syndrome, autoimmune disorders in the setting of immune reconstitution (e.g., Graves’ disease, polymyositis, Guillain-Barre syndrome)

Cardiovascular

An observational study investigating the rate of MI in patients on combination antiretroviral therapy showed an increased risk of MI with the use of this drug within the previous 6 months. A sponsor-conducted pooled analysis of clinical trials showed no excess risk of MI in abacavir-treated patients as compared with control subjects. Overall, available data from the observational cohort and from clinical trials were inconclusive.

Frequency not reported: Endothelial dysfunction, peripheral arterial disease, coronary bypass surgery, ischemic stroke, deep venous thrombosis, angina, transient ischemic attack
Postmarketing reports: Myocardial infarction (MI)

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50. Cruciani M, Zanichelli V, Serpelloni G, et al. “ABACAVIR use and cardiovascular disease events: a meta-analysis of published and unpublished data.” AIDS 25 (2011): 1993-2004

51. Calza L, Manfredi R, Verucchi G “Myocardial infarction risk in HIV-infected patients: epidemiology, pathogenesis, and clinical management.” AIDS 24 (2010): 789-802

52. Ribaudo HJ, Benson CA, Zheng Y, et al. “No Risk of Myocardial Infarction Associated With Initial Antiretroviral Treatment Containing Abacavir: Short and Long-Term Results from ACTG A5001/ALLRT.” Clin Infect Dis 52 (2011): 929-940

Not all side effects for abacavir may be reported. You should always consult a doctor or healthcare professional for medical advice. Side effects can be reported to the FDA here.

July 2017
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