Side effects of long-term oral antiviral therapy for hepatitis B


  • Robert J. Fontana

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor, MI
    • University of Michigan Medical Center, 3912 Taubman Center, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0362
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    • fax: 734-936-7392.

  • Potential conflict of interest: Dr. Fontana is on the speaker's bureau or has received consulting fees from Gilead Sciences, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, and Roche Laboratories.


The aim of this review is to summarize the safety profile of the five approved oral nucleoside analogs used to treat chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, focusing on both the class adverse effects and those that have been reported with individual agents, as well as their safety in pregnancy. All nucleoside analogs have a “Black Box” warning because of their potential for inhibition of human DNA polymerase gamma involved in mitochondrial DNA replication. A reduction in intracellular mitochondrial DNA levels can lead to varying clinical manifestations of mitochondrial toxicity (i.e., neuropathy, myopathy, lactic acidosis), but these side effects are rarely reported with the oral antiviral agents active against HBV. Adefovir and tenofovir are associated with a dose-dependent but usually reversible proximal renal tubular toxicity. For these reasons, patients receiving these agents should be monitored for renal toxicity and the dose modified for renal insufficiency. Prolonged use of tenofovir has also been reported to lead to reduced bone mineral density in patients with human immunodeficiency virus infection, but prospective studies in patients with HBV infection are lacking. Telbivudine treatment is associated with moderate serum creatine phosphokinase elevations in up to 12% of patients. There have been few prospective studies on the safety of nucleoside analogs during pregnancy. According to the Antiretroviral Pregnancy Registry, the incidence of birth defects associated with lamivudine and tenofovir use during pregnancy is not increased. Studies on the safety of long-term therapy with the nucleoside analogs, alone and in combination, are needed as are further studies of children, the elderly, pregnant women, and patients with renal insufficiency. (HEPATOLOGY 2009;49:S185–S195.)