Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer


Descovy is a combination medication that contains emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide. It is used with other antiretroviral agents as a part of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV-1 in individuals who are at least 12 years old and weigh at least 77 pounds (35 kg). Some children smaller than 77 pounds may be able to take Descovy if they meet other requirements designated by a healthcare provider.

Although Descovy is not a cure for HIV, when taken as directed, it allows for the virus to be suppressed. This prevents further transmission of HIV and allows an individual’s immune system to improve through increasing CD4 cell counts and decreasing the amount of active virus in the blood (viral load).

What are the ingredients in Descovy?

The main ingredients in Descovy are emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide. Both ingredients are nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs).

How does Descovy work?

Descovy is a combination of two NRTI medications. NRTIs stop the reverse transcription step of the HIV life cycle. Normally, HIV uses its reverse transcriptase enzyme to build a strand of DNA from its original RNA form. In order to do this, it uses genetic building blocks called nucleosides that come from the host cell. These nucleosides are strung together one at a time, like beads on a string, to create the final DNA product.

NRTIs act as nucleoside mimics that stop the DNA-building process. NRTIs look like normal nucleosides, except they’re missing a special chemical group on one side. Without this group, the reverse transcriptase enzyme is unable to attach more nucleosides to the chain after them. This prevents the full string of DNA from being formed, preventing HIV RNA from making it all the way through the reverse transcription process and into host DNA for further replication.

What are the possible side effects of Descovy?

The most common side effects of Descovy include, but are not limited to:

  • Nausea

Things to note about Descovy

As with any medication, there are several very rare but serious risks that need to be considered before taking Descovy. Your healthcare provider can help determine what issues you may be at risk for and help determine what treatment options are the safest for you. It’s also important to remember that the risk of one or more of these issues occurring is low, and the benefits of treating the virus often greatly outweigh the risks.

Several of these rare but serious side effects of Descovy include liver issues and an increase of lactic acid in the blood (lactic acidosis). Signs of liver issues include, but are not limited to:

  • Dark-colored urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Yellowing of the whites of the eyes or skin
  • Light-colored bowel movements
  • Pain or tenderness on the right side of your stomach

Signs of lactic acidosis include, but are not limited to:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling cold, especially in the limbs
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat

If you have hepatitis B virus and start taking Descovy, your hepatitis B may get worse. Descovy may also cause new or worsening kidney issues. This includes an increased risk of kidney failure. Your healthcare provider will need to monitor your kidney function before you start and while taking Descovy.

Before starting Descovy, tell your doctor if you:

  • Have or previously had hepatitis B virus
  • Have a history of liver or kidney problems
  • Are pregnant or planning to become pregnant
  • Are breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed
  • Are taking any over-the-counter vitamins, supplements, medicines, or herbal remedies
  • Are on any other medications or are about to start any other medications, including hormonal birth control or medications for hepatitis viruses

Descovy may cause a condition called IRIS (immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome). IRIS occurs when an individual’s immune system gets stronger after being weak and responds aggressively to previously hidden infections. This heightened response may make the person fighting the infection feel worse. Alert your healthcare provider immediately if you begin to have new symptoms after taking Descovy.

Dosing information

The most common dosage of Descovy is one tablet taken by mouth once a day. A tablet contains 200 mg of emtricitabine and 25 mg of tenofovir alafenamide. It is important to take your medication exactly as prescribed; do not stop or change your Descovy dosage without talking to your healthcare provider first. Descovy can be taken with or without food.

If you miss a dose of Descovy, contact your healthcare provider. If you take too much Descovy, seek medical attention immediately.1,2

Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: September 2019
  1. Descovy. United States Department of Health and Human Services: AIDSinfo. Published February 28, 2019. Accessed July 20, 2019.
  2. Descovy Prescribing Information. Gilead Sciences. Published September 2017. Accessed July 20, 2019.