Retrovirals or antiretrovirals are drugs that are used to treat infections caused by retroviruses; which are a type of virus belonging to the Retroviridae family and that are the cause of viruses such as human immunodeficiency (HIV). In this sense, the mechanism of action of retrovirals consists of preventing the multiplication or reproduction of retroviruses, moreover, it does not cure them completely, it simply prevents their continuous reproduction in the body.

Benefits of retrovirals

Retrovirals are drugs used in the treatment of infections caused by retroviruses, for example HIV; in this way, retrovirals seek to inhibit the growth and reproduction of infected cells, with the aim of preventing the infectious process from continuing. It should be mentioned that the use of retrovirals or antiretrovirals varies according to the stage of infection of the patient, as well as the presence of other conditions such as pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Among the most relevant benefits that can be obtained by consuming this class of drugs, are the following:

HIV treatment

HIV is a type of virus (retrovirus) that mainly attacks CD4 lymphocytes, these are a type of cells belonging to the immune system, which help fight diseases and infections in the body.

In this sense, when HIV enters the body, it transmits its genetic content to the cells, consequently, they stop working properly, in addition, they reproduce rapidly infecting the entire body, that is; that infects more and more cells in the body, which leaves the body completely exposed to diseases that are not normally dangerous, but which, when not fought by the body correctly, can cause death.

To treat this infection, retrovirals are used, whose function is to reduce the viral load (number of infected cells in the blood), therefore, it helps to reestablish the defense mechanism of the immune system. Again, it should be noted that it does not eliminate the virus as such, it simply reduces its amount in the blood and its effect on CD4 cells, however, the virus continues and will continue to be present.

AIDS treatment

The Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is the most serious phase of HIV, characterized by the presence of extreme damage to CD4 lymphocytes, consequently, a decrease in the immune system.

As in HIV treatment, antiretrovirals seek to reduce the action of retroviruses in the body; However, in both cases this treatment does not cure the disease, it only reduces its effects.

It should be noted that antiretroviral treatment in patients with AIDS should be started as soon as possible, because this infection can generate other serious conditions such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and some types of cancer, which cannot be treated with antiretrovirals.

HIV during pregnancy

HIV is a serious infection of the immune system, which is worsened in situations such as pregnancy, since it can be transmitted to the baby during delivery, as well as increases the risk of complications in both the mother and the child.

That is why antiretrovirals can also be used during and after pregnancy (unlike other drugs). In this sense, in addition to reducing the spread of the virus, they also prevent mother-to-child contagion. It is important to mention that this treatment during pregnancy must be supervised by a specialist, since it is a fairly strong drug that, if not taken correctly, can negatively affect the fetus.


A combination of two or more infections in an organism is called coinfection, in this sense, when the immune system is weakened by HIV, the chances of contracting other infections increase.

Consequently, HIV patients can also acquire other infections, such as hepatitis B or C. In these cases, the use of antiretrovirals helps to reduce both infections and improve the immune system.

Classification of antiretrovirals

Antiretrovirals are divided according to their range of action within the body, in other words, with the specific function they have to fight retroviruses. It should be mentioned that due to the existence of different antiretrovirals that fulfill different functions, antiretroviral treatment is carried out by combining some of these retrovirals to obtain more effective effects.

Among the most common drugs of this type are the following:

Nucleoside Analog Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors

It is known as reverse transcriptase to the enzyme required by the HIV retrovirus for its reproduction in the cells of the body. This type of antiretroviral, prevents the functioning of the enzyme, therefore, the development of the virus.

In the case of analogous inhibitors, they are of low potency, which is why they are used in the early phases of antiretroviral treatment with the combination of other antiretroviral drugs.

Examples of this type of antiretroviral are:

  • Didanosine.
  • Abacavir.
  • Zalcitabina.
  • Lamivudine.
  • Festinavir.

Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors

Like the previous ones, its mechanism of action consists of preventing the propagation of the reverse transcriptase enzyme; however, these are not grouped into the DNA chain of the virus, therefore, their action is more powerful. The best known non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors are:

  • Tenofovir.
  • Nevirapine.
  • Efavirenz.
  • Delavirdina.

Fusion inhibitors

Fusion inhibitors prevent the virus from binding to the cell; To do this, they block the lining of the retrovirus, consequently, it cannot adhere to the lymphocytes, and therefore, they cannot reproduce later. The drugs responsible for this inhibitory function are:

  • Fosamprenavir.
  • Enfuvirtida.

Protease inhibitors

Protease is the enzyme responsible for the reproduction of the virus, in this sense, this type of retroviral makes the replicating function of the enzyme impossible, preventing the duplication of HIV. Some protease inhibitors are:

  • Ritonavir.
  • Lopinavir.
  • Saquinavir.
  • Tipranavir.
  • Indinavir.

Entry inhibitors

These antiretrovirals prevent the entry, fixation and reproduction of the virus in the lymphocytes, therefore, they prevent the infection of the healthy cells of the body. The most commonly used entry inhibitors are:

  • Maraviroc.
  • Enfuvirtida.

Integrase inhibitors

Lastly, integrase inhibitors, this is an enzyme that introduces contaminated DNA to the genetic material of healthy cells; in this way, by preventing the functioning of this enzyme, the reproduction of the virus is prevented.

It should be mentioned that this type of antiretroviral is the most proven effective, however, it is used in combination with other inhibitors, for example, protease. The most used are:

  • Raltegravir.
  • Dolutegravir.
  • Eltigravir.

Relevant aspects of retrovirals

The use of retrovirals must be done with authorization and constant medical supervision, likewise, it is important to know some aspects related to it, in order to avoid possible complications of the disease. In this sense, HIV and AIDS patients are recommended to maintain strict medical control, also bearing in mind that retrovirals reduce the reproduction of the virus, however, they are not a permanent cure for the disease.

On the other hand, some things must also be taken into account, such as:

Interactions of retrovirals with other medications

Retrovirals or antiretrovirals are drugs, whose mechanism of action is very complex, due to the different types that exist; That is why it is difficult to generalize regarding the possible effects that its interaction with other medications may generate.

In this sense, reverse transcriptase inhibitors are the types of antiretrovirals that have the least effects when interacting with other drugs. However, research shows that they can inhibit the functioning of some antineoplastic drugs (substances used in cancer treatments).

In general, during antiretroviral treatment, special care should be taken with the consumption of the following drugs:

  • Buspirone (anxiolytics).
  • Lovastatin, simvastatin (treatment of cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases).
  • Nimodipina, felodipina (antihipertensivos).
  • Terfenadine (antihistamines).
  • Ergotamine (treatment for migraines).

Natural retrovirals

The main effect of retrovirals is to prevent or decrease the reproduction of the retrovirus in the body, in order to minimize the symptoms of HIV or AIDS. In this sense, naturopathic medicine offers different alternatives to the use of these drugs, however, it is not recommended to abandon the use of commercial retrovirals.

For their part, some natural products that help fight the HIV virus are:

  • Espirulina (algae).
  • Hongo reishi.
  • Turmeric.
  • Astragalo.
  • Ginseng.
  • Propolis (substances created by bees).

Side effects of retrovirals

As with the use of any drug, retrovirals can also generate side effects, which will depend on the type of antiretroviral, the stage of infection, the patient’s conditions, among others. In any of the cases, it is recommended to visit the doctor if any of these effects appear or if they worsen. The most frequent side effects that these drugs can generate are the following:

More common

When starting antiretroviral treatment, the appearance of some of these effects is common, which can last approximately two weeks; among them are:

  • Fever.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Muscle and headache pain.
  • Dizziness and tiredness
  • Insomnia.


Long-term use of retrovirals can cause more serious conditions and conditions, which appear months or even years after the start of treatment. Long-term side effects include:

  • Kidney and liver diseases.
  • Heart diseases.
  • Diabetes and insulin problems.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Depression, insomnia and other psychiatric and nervous system problems.
  • Lipodystrophy (accumulation of fat that causes changes in the appearance of the body).

Conclusion: Are these drugs really effective?

Retrovirals are drugs administered for the treatment of infections caused by retroviruses, such as HIV ( acquired immunodeficiency virus ) and AIDS ( acquired immunodeficiency syndrome ). In this sense, there are various types of antiretrovirals that serve to prevent the functioning of different enzymes, necessary for the multiplication and spread of these viruses, in the cells of the body.

Samantha Robson
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Dr. Samantha Robson ( CRN: 0510146-5) is a nutritionist and website content reviewer related to her area of ​​expertise. With a postgraduate degree in Nutrition from The University of Arizona, she is a specialist in Sports Nutrition from Oxford University and is also a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

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