Raltegravir (Isentress)

Raltegravir slows the progress of HIV infection.

Take one tablet twice a day.

It is one of a number of medicines that you will need to take regularly.

Raltegravir has been associated with some side-effects, particularly a rash. Your doctor will discuss this with you before you start treatment.

About raltegravir

Type of medicine An integrase inhibitor antiretroviral medicine
Used for Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in people over 16 years of age
Also called Isentress®
Available as Tablets

Raltegravir is an antiretroviral medicine. It is used for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. It slows the progress of HIV infection, but it is not a cure. HIV destroys cells in the body, called CD4 T cells. These cells are a type of white blood cell and are important because they are involved in protecting your body from infection. If left untreated, the HIV infection weakens your immune system so that your body cannot defend itself against bacteria, viruses and other germs. Raltegravir is known as an integrase inhibitor antiretroviral medicine. It works by stopping an enzyme which is produced by the virus from working. The virus produces the enzyme to help it multiply in the body, so by preventing it from working, raltegravir reduces the amount of virus in your body. This helps to improve your immune system.

Raltegravir is given alongside a number of other antiretroviral medicines, as part of a combination therapy. Taking three or more antiretroviral medicines at the same time is more effective than taking one alone. Taking a combination of different medicines also reduces the risk that the virus will become resistant to any individual medicine. It will be prescribed for you by a doctor who is a specialist.

Before taking raltegravir

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking raltegravir it is important that your doctor or pharmacist knows:

  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding.
  • If you have any problems with your liver or kidneys.
  • If you have ever had a mental health problem.
  • If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.

How to take raltegravir

  • Before you start this treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside your pack. The leaflet will give you more information about raltegravir and a full list of side-effects which you may experience from taking it.
  • Take raltegravir exactly as your doctor has told you to. The usual dose is one 400 mg tablet twice daily. Space your doses out during the day - preferably, every 12 hours.
  • The tablets should be swallowed whole with a drink of water, and should not be broken, crushed or chewed. You can take them before or after meals.
  • Try to take your doses at the same times of day each day, as this will help you to remember to take them.
  • If you do forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember (unless it is nearly time for your next dose, in which case leave out the missed dose). Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.

Getting the most from your treatment

  • Keep your regular appointments with your doctor so that your progress can be monitored. You will need to have regular blood tests while you are taking this medicine.
  • It is important that you continue to take raltegravir and your other antiretroviral treatment regularly. This will help to prevent the HIV from becoming resistant to the medicines you are taking. Even if you miss only a small number of doses, the virus can become resistant to treatment.
  • If you develop any infection soon after you start this treatment, let your doctor know. As a result of taking raltegravir, your immune system may start fighting an infection which was present before you started the treatment, but which you may not have been aware of.
  • Follow carefully any advice your doctor gives to you about making some lifestyle changes to reduce any risk of damage to your heart and blood vessels. These may include stopping smoking, eating healthily and taking regular exercise.
  • Although treatment with antiretroviral medicines may reduce the risk of your passing HIV to others through sexual contact, it does not stop it. It is important that you use condoms.
  • It is not uncommon for people with HIV to feel low or even depressed, especially soon after the diagnosis has been made and treatment has been started. If you have any feelings of depression you should speak with your doctor straightaway.
  • Some people who have taken antiretroviral medicines (particularly over a long time) have developed a condition called osteonecrosis. This is where some bone tissue dies because there is a reduced blood supply to it. It can cause joint aches and pains, and lead to difficulties in movement. If you notice any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor.
  • If you buy any medicines or herbal remedies, check with a pharmacist that they are suitable to take with raltegravir and your other medicines. This is because some medicines interfere with raltegravir and increase the risk of side-effects.
  • If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.
  • Treatment for HIV is usually lifelong. Continue to take raltegravir unless you are advised otherwise, even if you feel well. This is to keep your immune system healthy.

Can raltegravir cause problems?

Along with their useful effects, all medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. These usually improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side-effects continue or become troublesome.

Common raltegravir side-effects - these affect less than 1 in 10 people who take this medicine
What can I do if I experience this?
Rash If this becomes severe, let your doctor know straightaway (see below)
Feeling or being sick, wind, abdominal pain Stick to simple meals - avoid rich or spicy food
Diarrhoea Drink plenty of water to replace lost fluids
Feeling dizzy, tired or weak Do not drive or use tools or machines until you feel better
Headache Ask your doctor or pharmacist to recommend a suitable painkiller
Reduced appetite, sleeping problems, unusual dreams, feeling hot If any of these become troublesome, let your doctor know
Changes to some blood tests Your doctor will check for this

Important: although it is common for people taking raltegravir to develop a skin rash, a severe rash with blisters may be a sign of a more serious allergic-type reaction. Let your doctor know straightaway if you develop the following:

  • Severe blistering rash, high temperature, muscle and joint aches or pains, feeling generally unwell, mouth ulcers, conjunctivitis, swelling, and yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes.

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to this medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

How to store raltegravir

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.