Isentress is a brand-name prescription medication used to treat HIV in adults and children.

HIV is a virus that harms the immune system (the body’s defense against infections). Specifically, Isentress treats a form of HIV known as HIV-1. Isentress is a type of drug called an antiretroviral, and it’s meant to be used with other antiretrovirals.

Isentress contains the drug raltegravir.

Isentress comes in three forms: a tablet that you swallow, a chewable tablet, and a powder that you mix with water and drink.

Effectiveness

Isentress has been found to be effective when used with antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV in both adults and children.

In a 5-year clinical study, Isentress was tested in people with HIV who had never been treated before. The people were given the HIV drug tenofovir/emtricitabine (Truvada) with either Isentress or another HIV medication called efavirenz (Sustiva). Like Isentress, tenofovir/emtricitabine and efavirenz are types of antiretroviral drugs.

The study looked at people’s viral load, which is the amount of HIV in their bloodstream. When the amount of HIV is too low to measure, it’s called undetectable. Having an undetectable viral load means that a person’s HIV is under control.

At the end of the study, 66% of people who took Isentress had an undetectable viral load. This was compared to 60% of people who took efavirenz. The Isentress group also had higher CD4 cell counts than the efavirenz group. CD4 cells are immune cells that help fight infection.

Isentress is available only as a brand-name medication. It’s not currently available in generic form.

Isentress contains the active drug ingredient raltegravir.

Isentress can cause mild or serious side effects. The following lists contain some of the key side effects that may occur while taking Isentress. These lists don’t include all possible side effects.

For more information on the possible side effects of Isentress, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can give you tips on how to deal with any side effects that may be bothersome.

Note: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tracks side effects of drugs it has approved. If you would like to report to the FDA a side effect you’ve had with Isentress, you can do so through MedWatch.

More common side effects

The more common side effects of Isentress can include:

Most of these side effects may go away within a few days or a couple of weeks. If they’re more severe or don’t go away, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

Serious side effects

Serious side effects from Isentress aren’t common, but they can occur. Call your doctor right away if you have serious side effects. Call 911 if your symptoms feel life-threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency.

Serious side effects and their symptoms can include the following:

  • Severe skin reactions such as Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis. Symptoms can include:
    • red or purple skin rash that spreads
    • blisters or peeling skin
    • swollen eyes, lips, or mouth
    • fever
  • Weakness
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions. Symptoms can include:

Other serious side effects, explained in more detail below in “Side effect details,” include:

  • allergic reactions
  • immune system changes

Suicide prevention

  • If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

Side effect details

You may wonder how often certain side effects occur with this drug, or whether certain side effects pertain to it. Here’s some detail on several of the side effects this drug may or may not cause.

Allergic reaction

As with most drugs, some people can have an allergic reaction after taking Isentress. In clinical trials, allergic reactions were reported in less than 2% of people who took Isentress. It’s not known how often people who took a placebo (no treatment) had allergic reactions.

Symptoms of a mild allergic reaction can include:

  • itchiness
  • flushing (warmth and redness in your skin)

A more severe allergic reaction is rare but possible. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can include:

  • rash
  • swelling under your skin, typically in your eyelids, lips, hands, or feet
  • swelling of your tongue, mouth, or throat
  • trouble breathing

Call your doctor right away if you have a severe allergic reaction to Isentress. Call 911 if your symptoms feel life-threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency.

Rash

A rash can occur with Isentress. In clinical trials, less than 2% of people who took Isentress had mild to moderate rashes. It’s not known how many people who took a placebo had rashes.

If you have a severe rash while taking Isentress, tell your doctor right away. The rash could be a sign of a more serious allergic reaction, so they may have you stop taking Isentress.

Weight gain

Weight gain may occur when taking Isentress. In clinical trials, Isentress wasn’t found to be a direct cause of weight changes. However, recent studies show that HIV medications such as Isentress may increase body mass index (BMI) in people with HIV.

One study looked at people who were treated with Isentress, atazanavir plus ritonavir (Reyataz plus Norvir), or darunavir plus ritonavir (Prezista plus Norvir). Everyone in the study also took tenofovir/emtricitabine (Truvada). After 2 years, waist size increased by an average of:

  • 4 cm in people who took Isentress plus Truvada
  • 3.3 cm in people who took Reyataz, Norvir, and Truvada
  • 2.8 cm in people who took Prezista, Norvir, and Truvada

The study also found that the increase in waist size varied depending on people’s race or ethnicity and sex. Weight gain was more common in black women, who had an average increase of 6.9 cm in their waist size.

Muscle pain and weakness

Weakness can occur with Isentress. In clinical trials, less than 2% of people who took Isentress had weakness. It’s not known how many people who took a placebo had this side effect.

Muscle pain wasn’t seen with Isentress. But muscle weakness along with muscle pain may point to a severe muscle problem that can result in kidney problems.

If you have muscle weakness or muscle pain while taking Isentress, tell your doctor right away.

Immune system changes

Changes in your immune system can occur when taking Isentress. (The immune system is the body’s defense against infections.)

In clinical studies, immune reconstitution syndrome was reported in people who took Isentress. It’s not known how often this side effect develops in people who take Isentress.

Immune reconstitution syndrome may also be called immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS). This syndrome occurs when signs and symptoms of a past infection or disease flare up. This can include the lung infections pneumonia and tuberculosis, as well as Graves’ disease and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Graves’ disease affects your thyroid gland, and Guillain-Barré syndrome affects your nervous system.

Symptoms of these infections and diseases can include:

  • fever
  • fatigue (lack of energy)
  • night sweats
  • tingling or prickling sensations in your fingers and toes
  • muscle weakness in your legs
  • trouble walking

If you’ve had one of the conditions mentioned above and notice these symptoms while taking Isentress, tell your doctor right away. They can recommend a treatment for the infection or disease.

Side effects in children

Side effects in children who took Isentress were similar to those in adults. And as with adults, the most common side effects in children were headache, trouble sleeping, and nausea.

In clinical trials, Isentress was seen to be effective in treating HIV when used with another HIV drug called tenofovir/emtricitabine (Truvada).

Truvada contains two drugs in one pill. These drugs works differently in your body than Isentress does. For this reason, Isentress and Truvada are sometimes used together to fight HIV. Most people with HIV will need to take more than one medication to control HIV.

In a 5-year clinical study, Isentress plus Truvada was tested in people with HIV who had never been treated before. The people were given Truvada with either Isentress or another HIV medication called efavirenz (Sustiva).

The study looked at people’s viral load, which is the amount of HIV in their bloodstream. When the amount of HIV is too low to measure, it’s called undetectable. Having an undetectable viral load means that a person’s HIV is under control.

At the end of the study, 66% of people who took Isentress plus Truvada had an undetectable viral load. This was compared to 60% of people who took efavirenz plus Truvada. The group who took Isentress plus Truvada also had higher CD4 cell counts than the efavirenz group. CD4 cells are immune cells that help fight infection.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents supports using Isentress plus Truvada for most people with HIV who are starting treatment.

Use with other drugs

Isentress is approved to be used only with other drugs that treat HIV. The HHS guidelines mentioned above recommend the following drug combinations:

  • Isentress plus Truvada for most people
  • Isentress plus abacavir/lamivudine (Epzicom) in certain situations
  • Isentress plus darunavir (Prezista) and ritonavir (Norvir) in certain situations

Isentress with Descovy

Isentress can also be used with an HIV drug called emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide (Descovy). Descovy contains a different form of tenofovir than the one in Truvada. Because Truvada and Descovy contain very similar drugs, the HSS guidelines recommend using either medication with Isentress.

If you have any questions about other drugs that are used with Isentress to treat HIV, talk with your doctor.

The Isentress dosage your doctor prescribes will depend on several factors. These include:

  • the type and severity of the condition you’re using Isentress to treat
  • your age
  • the form of Isentress you take
  • other medical conditions you may have

Typically, your doctor will start you on a low dosage. Then they’ll adjust it over time to reach the amount that’s right for you. Your doctor will ultimately prescribe the smallest dosage that provides the desired effect.

The following information describes dosages that are commonly used or recommended. However, be sure to take the dosage your doctor prescribes for you. Your doctor will determine the best dosage to suit your needs.

Drug forms and strengths

Isentress comes in three forms, and each contains different strengths:

  • a tablet that you swallow: 400 mg
  • a chewable tablet: 25 mg and 100 mg
  • a powder that you mix with water and drink: 100 mg/packet of powder

The form prescribed will depend on your age and weight. Isentress isn’t recommended for children who weigh less than 4.4 pounds.

Isentress also comes in high-dose (HD) 600-mg tablets. This form of the drug is called Isentress HD, and it’s only for adults and children who weigh at least 88 pounds.

Don’t switch back and forth between forms of Isentress. The amounts of medication in each form aren’t equivalent. For example, four 100-mg chewable tablets wouldn’t be the same dose as one 400-mg tablet that you swallow. If you having trouble swallowing pills or need a different form of Isentress, talk with your doctor.

Dosage for HIV

You’ll likely take Isentress twice a day: one tablet in the morning and another in the evening. If you take Isentress HD, the typical dosage is two tablets once a day. The powder-water mixture is typically used for children, who would take it twice a day.

Pediatric dosage

Isentress can be given to children who weigh at least 4.4 pounds (2 kg). Isentress HD can be given only to children who weigh at least 88 pounds (40 kg).

The specific dosage will be based on the form of Isentress your child takes and their weight. Their doctor will provide you with the relevant dosing information.

What if I miss a dose?

If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If you don’t remember until it’s time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and go back to your regular schedule.

It’s important that you take Isentress exactly as instructed by your doctor. Delayed or missed doses can make the medication less effective. This is because missing doses lets the HIV in your body multiply, making it harder to treat. And when HIV multiplies, it attacks your immune system (your body’s defense against infection). This can make you more likely to develop an infection or other complications.

To help make sure that you don’t miss a dose, try setting a reminder on your phone. A medication timer may be useful, too.

Will I need to use this drug long term?

Isentress is meant to be used as a long-term treatment. If you and your doctor determine that Isentress is safe and effective for you, you’ll likely take it long term.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves prescription drugs such as Isentress to treat certain conditions. Isentress may also be used off-label for other conditions. Off-label use is when a drug that’s approved to treat one condition is used to treat a different condition.

Isentress for HIV

Isentress is FDA-approved to treat HIV in adults and in children. Isentress is a type of drug called an antiretroviral, and it should be used with other antiretrovirals.

Isentress is approved to treat HIVs when used with other HIV medications. HIV is a virus that attacks certain cells in your immune system called CD4 cells. (Your immune system is your body’s defense against infection.) Your immune system becomes weaker and isn’t strong enough to fight germs, so you’re at an increased risk of infections and certain cancers. Examples of these cancers include cervical cancer, lung cancer, and a type of blood cancer called lymphoma.

Effectiveness

Isentress has been found to be effective when used with antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV in both adults and children.

In a 5-year clinical study, Isentress was tested in people with HIV who had never been treated before. The people were given tenofovir/emtricitabine (Truvada) with either Isentress or efavirenz (Sustiva). Like Isentress, tenofovir/emtricitabine and efavirenz are types of antiretroviral drugs.

The study looked at people’s viral load, or the amount of HIV in their bloodstream. When the amount of HIV is too low to measure, it’s called undetectable. Having an undetectable viral load means that a person’s HIV is under control.

At the end of the study, 66% of people who took Isentress had an undetectable viral load. This was compared to 60% of people who took efavirenz. The Isentress group also had higher CD4 cell counts than the efavirenz group. CD4 cells are immune cells that help fight infection.

Off-label use for Isentress

In addition to the use listed above, Isentress may be used off-label. Off-label drug use is when a drug that’s approved for one use is used for a different one that’s not approved.

Postexposure prophylaxis

Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) is treatment to reduce the risk of HIV in people who might’ve been exposed to HIV.

Guidelines from the U.S. Public Health Service recommend the use of Isentress plus tenofovir/emtricitabine (Truvada) as the best option for postexposure prophylaxis at work. The people this applies to include healthcare workers who may have been exposed to blood or other body fluids that may contain HIV.

Isentress can also be used with other HIV drugs for postexposure prophylaxis.

Isentress for children

Isentress and Isentress HD are approved to be used with other HIV drugs to treat HIV in children. (Isentress HD is the high-dose form of Isentress.) Isentress should be used only in children who weigh at least 4.4 pounds (2 kg). Isentress HD can be used in children who weigh at least 88 pounds (40 kg).

In a clinical study, 96 children had Isentress added to their HIV medications. After 24 weeks, the success rate in children who took Isentress was 44% to 87%. “Success” meant that their viral load (the amount of HIV in the bloodstream) decreased.

The rate of success seemed to differ based on what form of Isentress children took. The chewable tablets and the powder forms of Isentress had higher success rates than the regular tablets.

Alcohol doesn’t affect how Isentress works, and there aren’t any warnings about avoiding alcohol while you’re taking the drug. However, if you find that Isentress makes you feel tired or dizzy, drinking alcohol could worsen these side effects. If you drink alcohol, talk with your doctor about whether Isentress is right for you.

Isentress can interact with several other medications. It can also interact with certain supplements as well as certain foods.

Different interactions can cause different effects. For instance, some interactions can interfere with how well a drug works. Other interactions can increase the number of side effects or make them more severe.

Isentress and other medications

Below is a list of medications that can interact with Isentress. This list doesn’t contain all drugs that may interact with Isentress.

Before taking Isentress, talk with your doctor and pharmacist. Tell them about all prescription, over-the-counter, and other drugs you take. Also tell them about any vitamins, herbs, and supplements you use. Sharing this information can help you avoid potential interactions.

If you have questions about drug interactions that may affect you, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Isentress and certain antacids

Antacids are over-the-counter drugs used to treat heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion. Taking Isentress with certain antacids can decrease levels of Isentress in your body. This could make Isentress less effective at treating HIV. These antacids include ones that contain aluminum hydroxide or calcium carbonate.

Examples of antacids that contain aluminum hydroxide include:

  • Almacone
  • Alternagel
  • Gaviscon (Extra Strength and Regular Strength Liquid)
  • Maalox
  • Mylanta
  • Rulox

Examples of antacids that contain calcium carbonate include:

  • Alka-Seltzer Relief Chews
  • Calcid
  • Miralac
  • Rolaids
  • Titralac
  • Tums

If you’re taking Isentress, tell your doctor before you use an antacid. They may suggest another treatment to help ease your heartburn, acid reflux, or indigestion.

Isentress and rifampin

Rifampin (Rifadin) is an antibiotic used to prevent and treat the lung infection tuberculosis (TB). Rifampin can decrease the level of Isentress in your body. This can making Isentress less effective in treating HIV.

If you’re taking rifampin to treat TB, your doctor may need to prescribe a higher dose of Isentress. You shouldn’t take Isentress HD (the high-dose form of Isentress) while you’re using rifampin.

Isentress and other HIV medications

Isentress is approved to treat HIV when used with other HIV medications. However, if you’re taking Isentress HD (the high-dose form of Isentress), there are HIV medications you should avoid. This is because certain medications can lower the level of Isentress HD in your body. These medications include:

  • etravirine (Intelence)
  • tipranavir (Aptivus) with ritonavir (Norvir)

Lower levels of Isentress HD in your body make the drug less effective in treating HIV. If you’re taking Isentress HD, talk with your doctor about which other HIV medications are right for you.

Isentress and herbs and supplements

There aren’t any herbs or supplements that have been specifically reported to interact with Isentress. However, you should still check with your doctor or pharmacist before using any of these products while taking Isentress.

Isentress and foods

You can take Isentress with or without food.

Other drugs are available that can treat HIV. Some may be better suited for you than others. If you’re interested in finding an alternative to Isentress, talk with your doctor. They can tell you about other medications that may work well for you.

Alternatives for HIV

Examples of other drugs that may be used to treat HIV include:

  • abacavir/dolutegravir/lamivudine (Triumeq)
  • bictegravir/emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide (Biktarvy)
  • dolutegravir (Tivicay)
  • dolutegravir/lamivudine (Dovato)
  • dolutegravir/rilpivirine (Juluca)
  • elvitegravir (Vitekta)
  • elvitegravir/cobicistat/emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide (Genvoya)

You may wonder how Isentress compares to other medications that are prescribed for similar uses. Here we look at how Isentress and Tivicay are alike and different.

Isentress contains the active drug raltegravir. Tivicay contains dolutegravir.

Uses

Isentress and Tivicay are both approved to treat HIV in adults and children when used with other HIV drugs called antiretrovirals. Isentress and Tivicay are both antiretrovirals.

Isentress should be used only in children who weigh at least 4.4 pounds (2 kg). The high-dose form of Isentress (Isentress HD) can be used in children who weigh at least 88 pounds (40 kg). Tivicay is for use in children who weigh at least 66 pounds (30 kg).

Drug forms and administration

Here’s some information about how the forms and administration of the two drugs compare.

Isentress

Isentress comes in three forms, and each contains different strengths:

  • a tablet that you swallow: 400 mg
  • a chewable tablet: 25 mg and 100 mg
  • a powder that you mix with water and drink: 100 mg/packet of powder

Isentress HD comes in 600-mg tablets. This form is only for adults and children who weigh at least 88 pounds.

You’ll likely take Isentress twice a day: one tablet in the morning and another in the evening. If you take Isentress HD, the typical dosage is two tablets once a day. The powder-water mixture is typically used for children, and they’d take it twice a day. Isentress can be taken with food or on an empty stomach.

For children, the specific dosage of Isentress will be based on the form of Isentress your child takes and their weight. Their doctor will provide you with the relevant dosing information.

Tivicay

Tivicay comes in one form: a tablet that you swallow. The tablets come in three strengths: 10 mg, 25 mg, and 50 mg.

The usual dosage of Tivicay is one tablet once or twice a day. The exact dose will depend on what other drugs you’re taking and how well your HIV is controlled. Tivicay can be taken with food or on an empty stomach.

Tivicay dosages will also be based on your child’s weight. Their doctor will provide you with the relevant dosing information.

Side effects and risks

Isentress and Tivicay belong to the same class of medications, so they have similar effects in the body. (A class of drugs is a group of medications that work in a similar way.) Therefore, Isentress and Tivicay cause many of the same side effects. Below are some examples of these side effects.

More common side effects

These lists contain examples of more common side effects that can occur with Isentress, with Tivicay, or with both drugs (when taken individually).

Serious side effects

These lists contain examples of serious side effects that can occur with Isentress, with Tivicay, or with both drugs (when taken individually).

  • Can occur with Isentress:
    • severe skin reactions such as Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis
    • weakness
  • Can occur with Tivicay:
  • Can occur with both Isentress and Tivicay:
    • immune system changes including immune reconstitution syndrome, a condition in which signs of a past infection flare up
    • allergic reactions
    • suicidal thoughts and actions

Effectiveness

The only condition both Isentress and Tivicay are used to treat is HIV. The use of Isentress and Tivicay in treating HIV has been directly compared in clinical studies.

One study looked at how effective Isentress was compared to Tivicay for 48 weeks. People took either Isentress twice a day or Tivicay once a day, along with other antiretrovirals to treat HIV.

Researchers examined people’s viral load (the amount of HIV in their bloodstream). When the amount of HIV is too low to measure, it’s called undetectable. Having an undetectable viral load means that a person’s HIV is under control.

At the end of the study, 64% of people who took Isentress had an undetectable viral load. In the group who took Tivicay, 71% of people had an undetectable viral load. The researchers concluded that Tivicay was more effective than Isentress for the people in this study.

Costs

Isentress and Tivicay are both brand-name drugs. There are currently no generic forms of either drug. Brand-name medications usually cost more than generics.

According to estimates on GoodRx.com, Isentress and Tivicay generally cost about the same. The actual price you’ll pay for either drug depends on your dose, your insurance plan, your location, and the pharmacy you use.

Like Tivicay (above), the drug Biktarvy has uses similar to those of Isentress. Here’s a comparison of how Isentress and Biktarvy are alike and different.

Isentress contains the active drug raltegravir. Biktarvy contains three active drugs: bictegravir, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide.

Uses

Isentress is approved to treat HIV in adults and children. The drug is meant to be used with other HIV drugs called antiretrovirals. (Isentress is an antiretroviral.)

Isentress can be given to children who weigh at least 4.4 pounds (2 kg). The high-dose form of Isentress (Isentress HD) can be used in children who weigh at least 88 pounds (40 kg).

Biktarvy is also approved to treat HIV in adults and children. Because Biktarvy contains three active drugs, it can be used by itself.

To receive Biktarvy, children must weigh at least 55 pounds (25 kg).

Drug forms and administration

Here’s some information about how the forms and administration of the two drugs compare.

Isentress

Isentress comes in three forms, and each contains different strengths:

  • a tablet that you swallow: 400 mg
  • a chewable tablet: 25 mg and 100 mg
  • a powder that you mix with water and drink: 100 mg/packet of powder

Isentress HD comes in 600-mg tablets. This form is only for adults and children who weigh at least 88 pounds.

You’ll likely take Isentress twice a day: one tablet in the morning and another in the evening. If you take Isentress HD, the typical dosage is two tablets once a day. The powder-water mixture is typically used for children, who would take it twice a day. Isentress can be taken with food or on an empty stomach.

For children, the specific dosage of Isentress will be based on the form of Isentress your child takes and their weight. Their doctor will provide you with the relevant dosing information.

Biktarvy

Biktarvy comes in one form: a tablet that you swallow. It contains 50 mg of bictegravir, 200 mg of emtricitabine, and 25 mg of tenofovir alafenamide. You’ll typically take one tablet, once a day. Biktarvy can be taken with food or on an empty stomach.

The typical Biktarvy dosage for children is one tablet, once a day.

Side effects and risks

Isentress and Biktarvy belong to the same class of medications, so they have similar effects in the body. (A class of drugs is a group of medications that work in a similar way.) Therefore, Isentress and Biktarvy cause many of the same side effects. Below are some examples of these side effects.

More common side effects

These lists contain examples of serious side effects that can occur with Isentress, with Biktarvy, or with both drugs (when taken individually).

  • Can occur with Isentress:
  • Can occur with Biktarvy:
  • Can occur with both Isentress and Biktarvy:

Serious side effects

These lists contain examples of serious side effects that can occur with Isentress, with Biktarvy, or with both drugs (when taken individually).

Effectiveness

The only condition both Isentress and Biktarvy are used to treat is HIV.

These drugs haven’t been directly compared in clinical studies, but studies have found both Isentress and Biktarvy to be effective for treating HIV.

Costs

Isentress and Biktarvy are both brand-name drugs. There are currently no generic forms of either drug. Brand-name medications usually cost more than generics.

According to estimates on GoodRx.com, Isentress generally costs less than Biktarvy. The actual price you’ll pay for either drug depends on your insurance plan, your location, and the pharmacy you use.

As with all medications, the cost of Isentress can vary. To find current prices for Isentress in your area, check out GoodRx.com:

The cost you find on GoodRx.com is what you may pay without insurance. The actual price you’ll pay depends on your insurance plan, your location, and the pharmacy you use.

Financial assistance

If you need financial support to pay for Isentress, help is available. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., the manufacturer of Isentress, offers a coupon and additional support through its the Merck Patient Assistance Program. For more information and to find out if you’re eligible for support, call 800-727-5400 or visit the program website.

You should take Isentress according to your doctor or healthcare provider’s instructions.

When to take

To help make sure that you don’t miss a dose, try setting a reminder on your phone. A medication timer may be useful, too.

Taking Isentress with food

You can take Isentress with or without food. However, taking the drug with food might help ease any nausea you have due to the medication.

Can Isentress be crushed, split, or chewed?

You should swallow Isentress tablets whole. Don’t crush, split, or chew them. However, if you have trouble swallowing pills or if a child will be taking the drug, alternative forms of Isentress are available. These include chewable tablets and a powder that you mix with water and swallow.

Isentress is used to treat HIVs. HIV is a virus that weakens your immune system, which is your body’s defense against infection. When your immune system isn’t strong enough to fight germs, you’re at an increased risk for infections.

HIV is spread through bodily fluids that include blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal and rectal fluids. You can contract HIV if you come in contact with these bodily fluids from someone who has HIV. This usually occurs during sexual activity or by sharing needles to inject drugs.

How Isentress treats HIV

Isentress is a type of drug called an HIV integrase inhibitor. HIV integrase is an enzyme (a type of protein) that HIV needs in order to multiply. Along with the use of other drugs that work similarly, Isentress inhibits (prevents) HIV from multiplying and decreases the level of HIV in the blood. Isentress also increases the number of a certain type of white blood cell called CD4 (T). More white blood cells help your body better fight infection.

How long does it take to work?

Isentress will likely start working in your body a few hours after you start taking it. However, you may not notice any change in your symptoms.

HIV medications such as Isentress work by lowering viral load (the amount of HIV in the bloodstream). When the amount of HIV is too low to measure, it’s called undetectable. Having an undetectable viral load means that a person’s HIV is under control. It usually takes 3 to 6 months of treatment with Isentress to make a person’s viral load undetectable.

Your doctor will determine how well Isentress is working for you based on the results of your blood tests.

Isentress is safe for pregnant women with HIV and their babies. The drug has a pregnancy exposure registry that collects information about the health of pregnant women taking Isentress and their babies. If you’re pregnant during your Isentress treatment, talk with your doctor about taking part in this registry.

Data collected from the pregnancy exposure registry has shown Isentress to be effective for pregnant women with HIV and that Isentress doesn’t cause birth defects in children. If you’re pregnant or are planning to become pregnant and have questions about Isentress, ask your doctor.

There aren’t any known interactions between Isentress and birth control. If you or your sexual partner can become pregnant, talk with your doctor about your birth control needs while you’re using Isentress. You should also talk with your doctor about ways to prevent transmitting HIV to your sexual partner.

If you have HIV, you shouldn’t breastfeed because you could transmit the virus to your child. It’s also not known if Isentress can pass into breast milk. Talk with your doctor about the best way to feed your baby.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about Isentress.

Can I take Isentress if I have HIV and hepatitis?

Yes. In clinical studies, Isentress was used in people who had HIV as well as the liver disease hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Isentress treatment was safe for these people.

However, Isentress isn’t approved to treat hepatitis. You may need to take additional medication for hepatitis if you have it.

If you have HIV and hepatitis, ask your doctor what treatments are right for you.

Does the active drug in Isentress come in a combination tablet?

No. Isentress contains the drug raltegravir, which doesn’t currently come in a combination tablet form to treat HIV. Isentress is meant to be taken with other HIV drugs. So if you use Isentress, you’ll need more than one pill to treat HIV.

In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a raltegrivir combination tablet called Dutrebis. This tablet included two drugs: raltegravir (Isentress) and lamivudine (Epivir). However, the drug maker decided not to sell Dutrebis. It’s not known whether a combination form of Isentress will ever become available.

If you have questions about Isentress or other HIV medications, talk with your doctor.

Can Isentress prevent HIV?

No, Isentress is approved to only treat HIV, not prevent them. Isentress doesn’t keep you from transmitting HIV to other people. However, taking HIV medication every day makes it less likely that you’ll transfer the virus to someone else.

To help prevent HIV, use a new condom or other barrier method whenever you have sex and avoid sharing needles and other drug equipment.

Your doctor can give you more information on the best ways to prevent HIV.

Does Isentress cure HIV?

No, Isentress isn’t a cure for HIV. Isentress is used to treat HIV.

Although HIV has no cure, treatment with drugs such as antiretrovirals can help manage and lower HIV levels. Isentress is an antiretroviral, and it’s meant to be used with other antiretrovirals. There’s a lot of research currently being done to find a cure for HIV.

If you have questions about Isentress or other HIV treatments, ask your doctor.

Before taking Isentress, talk with your doctor about your health history. Isentress may not be right for you if you have certain medical conditions or other factors affecting your health. These include:

  • Liver problems. If you have liver problems, you shouldn’t take Isentress HD (the high-dose form of Isentress). Isentress HD hasn’t been studied in people with liver problems. If you have questions about the non-high-dose form of Isentress, talk with your doctor.
  • Dialysis. If you’re on dialysis, avoid taking Isentress before your dialysis sessions. (Dialysis is a treatment that removes waste and excess water, and sometimes drugs, from your blood.) It’s not known whether dialysis removes Isentress from your body. To make sure you get the full dose of Isentress, it’s better to finish your dialysis session before you take the medication. If you have any concerns about dialysis and when to take Isentress, talk with your doctor.
  • Pregnancy. Isentress is safe for pregnant women with HIV and their babies. For more information, please see the “Isentress and pregnancy” section above.
  • Breastfeeding. HIV can be transmitted to a child through breast milk, so if you have HIV, you should avoid breastfeeding. For more information, please see the “Isentress and breastfeeding” section above.
  • Phenylketonuria. If you have phenylketonuria, you shouldn’t take the chewable tablet form of Isentress. Phenylketonuria is a rare genetic condition that affects how your body breaks down certain foods. Isentress chewable tablets contain the artificial sweetener aspartame, which can be harmful to people with phenylketonuria. If you have questions about the other forms of Isentress, talk with your doctor.

Note: For more information about the potential negative effects of Isentress, see the “Isentress side effects” section above.

Using more than the recommended dosage of Isentress can lead to serious side effects.

What to do in case of overdose

If you think you’ve taken too much of this drug, call your doctor. You can also call the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 800-222-1222 or use their online tool. But if your symptoms are severe, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room right away.

When you get Isentress from the pharmacy, the pharmacist will add an expiration date to the label on the bottle. This date is typically 1 year from the date they dispensed the medication.

The expiration date helps guarantee the effectiveness of the medication during this time. The current stance of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to avoid using expired medications. If you have unused medication that has gone past the expiration date, talk with your pharmacist about whether you might still be able to use it.

Storage

How long a medication remains good can depend on many factors, including how and where you store the medication.

You should store Isentress at room temperature (68°F to 77°F/20°C to 25°C) in a tightly sealed container away from light. Avoid keeping this medication in areas where it could get damp or wet, such as in bathrooms.

Disposal

If you no longer need to take Isentress and have leftover medication, it’s important to dispose of it safely. This helps prevent others, including children and pets, from taking the drug by accident. It also helps keep the drug from harming the environment.

The FDA website provides several useful tips on medication disposal. You can also ask your pharmacist for information on how to dispose of your medication.

The following information is provided for clinicians and other healthcare professionals.

Indications

Isentress is approved in combination with other antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV-1 infection in both adults and children.

Mechanism of action

Isentress is an integrase inhibitor and prevents integrase insertion that is essential for endonucleolytic processing of the viral DNA ends. Isentress also prevents the subsequent strand transfer of viral and cellular DNA.

Pharmacokinetics and metabolism

Isentress reaches peak concentration in between 1.5 to 3 hours and is highly bound to plasma protein (83%). It is metabolized primarily by hepatic glucuronidation mediated by UGT1A1. The half-life is about 9 hours, and it is eliminated in the feces and, to a lesser extent, urine.

Contraindications

There are no contraindications to Isentress use.

Storage

Isentress film-coated tablets should be stored at 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C). Chewable Isentress tablets should be stored in the original container between 68°F and 77°F (20°C and 25°C). Isentress powder for suspension should also be stored in the original container between 68°F and 77°F (20°C and 25°C). The foil packet with powder for suspension should not be opened until it’s ready to be used.

Disclaimer: Medical News Today has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up-to-date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or other healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.