Emtricitabine

What is emtricitabine?

Emtricitabine is a medication used to treat HIV, marketed under the brand name Emtriva. It is taken in combination with other antiretroviral drugs.

The usual adult dose of emtricitabine is one 200mg capsule per day.

Emtricitabine is also available in combination tablets. It is combined with other antiretroviral drugs in Atripla, Descovy, Eviplera, Genvoya, Odefsey, Stribild and Truvada.

How does emtricitabine work?

Emtricitabine is from a class of drugs known as nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs). Your doctor will prescribe emtricitabine as part of your HIV treatment, along with antiretrovirals from another class of drugs. It is important to take all the drugs as prescribed, every day. Each drug class works against HIV in a different way.

The aim of HIV treatment is to reduce the level of HIV in your body (viral load). Ideally, your viral load should become so low that it is undetectable – usually less than 50 copies of virus per ml of blood. Taking HIV treatment and having an undetectable viral load protects your immune system and stops HIV being passed on to someone else during sex.

How do I take emtricitabine?

You can take emtricitabine with or without food. It should be swallowed whole, with water.

HIV treatment works best if you take it every day. When would be a good time for you to plan to take your treatment? Think about your daily routine and when you will find it easiest to take your treatment.

If you forget to take a dose of emtricitabine, take it as soon as you remember. If it has been more than 12 hours since your dose was due, then don’t take a double dose, just skip the dose you’ve forgotten and carry on.

If you regularly forget to take your treatment, or you aren’t taking it for another reason, it’s important to talk to your doctor about this.

What are the possible side-effects of emtricitabine?

All drugs have possible side-effects. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about possible side-effects before you start taking a drug. If you experience something that might be a side-effect, talk to your doctor about what can be done. A full list of side-effects, including less common side-effects, should be included in the leaflet that comes in the packaging with emtricitabine.

Glossary

antiretroviral (ARV)

A substance that acts against retroviruses such as HIV. There are several classes of antiretrovirals, which are defined by what step of viral replication they target: nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors; non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors; protease inhibitors; entry inhibitors; integrase (strand transfer) inhibitors.

viral load

Measurement of the amount of virus in a blood sample, reported as number of HIV RNA copies per milliliter of blood plasma. The VL is an important indicator of HIV progression and of how well treatment is working. 

 

undetectable viral load

A level of viral load that is too low to be picked up by the particular viral load test being used or below an agreed threshold (such as 50 copies/ml or 200 copies/ml). An undetectable viral load is the first goal of antiretroviral therapy.

drug interaction

When a person is taking more than one drug, and drug A interferes with the functioning of drug B. Blood levels of the drug may be lowered or raised, potentially interfering with effectiveness or making side-effects worse. Also known as a drug-drug interaction.

symptom

Any perceptible, subjective change in the body or its functions that signals the presence of a disease or condition, as reported by the patient.

 

We generally divide side-effects into two types:

Common – a side-effect that occurs in at least one in a hundred people (more than 1%) who take this drug.

Rare – a side-effect that occurs in fewer than one in a hundred people (less than 1%) who take this drug.

Common side-effects of emtricitabine include (most common in bold):

  • headache, diarrhoea, feeling sick (nausea), being sick (vomiting), indigestion.
  • muscle pain and weakness, dizziness, weakness, difficulty sleeping, abnormal dreams, pain.
  • skin rash, itching, changes in skin colour including darkening of the skin in patches.
  • changes in the results of some blood tests (e.g. liver and pancreas tests, white blood cell count); raised blood sugar and triglyceride levels.

Rare side-effects of emtricitabine include: lactic acidosis, liver damage.

Does emtricitabine interact with other drugs?

You should always tell your doctor and pharmacist about any other drugs or medication you are taking. That includes anything prescribed by another doctor, medicines you have bought from a high-street chemist, herbal and alternative treatments, and recreational or party drugs (‘chems’).

Some medicines or drugs are not safe if taken together – the interaction could cause increased, dangerous levels, or it could stop one or both of the drugs from working. Other drug interactions are less dangerous but still need to be taken seriously. If levels of one drug are affected, you may need to change the dose you take. This must only be done on the advice of your HIV doctor.

Any drugs that are known to have interactions with emtricitabine will be listed in the leaflet that comes in the packaging with emtricitabine. Tell your doctor if you are taking any of these drugs, and other drugs that are not on the list.

Can I take emtricitabine in pregnancy?

If you are considering having a baby, or think you might be pregnant, talk to your doctor as soon as possible about which combination of anti-HIV medications would be right for you. It is important to take antiretroviral treatment during pregnancy to prevent passing HIV from mother to baby.

Emtricitabine’s manufacturer does not recommend using the drug during pregnancy.

However, many women have taken emtricitabine while pregnant without any problems. The British HIV Association (BHIVA) recommends that women who are already taking anti-HIV medications and become pregnant can usually continue to take the same medication throughout their pregnancy. In addition, BHIVA lists emtricitabine (in combination with other medications) as an option that may be recommended for women who start HIV treatment in pregnancy, depending on their individual circumstances.

Women living with HIV are advised not to breastfeed, as HIV can be passed on in breast milk. However, some women do choose to breastfeed. Emtricitabine should not be used during breastfeeding as a small amount of the drug passes into breast milk.

Can children take emtricitabine?

Emtricitabine is approved for use by children aged 4 months and over. A liquid formulation is available.

 

Talking to your doctor

If you have any concerns about your treatment or other aspects of your health, it’s important to talk to your doctor about them.

For example, if you have a symptom or side-effect or if you are having problems taking your treatment every day, it’s important that your doctor knows about this. If you are taking any other medication or recreational drugs, or if you have another medical condition, this is also important for your doctor to know about.

Building a relationship with a doctor may take time. You may feel very comfortable talking to your doctor, but some people find it more difficult, particularly when talking about sex, mental health, or symptoms they find embarrassing. It’s also easy to forget things you wanted to talk about.

Preparing for an appointment can be very helpful. Take some time to think about what you are going to say. You might find it helpful to talk to someone else first, or to make some notes and bring them to your appointment. 

For detailed information on this drug, visit the emtricitabine pages in the A-Z of antiretroviral medications.

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