Smiling couple on couch after learning what Descovy® is used for

What is Descovy® used for?

Written on May 22, 2023 by Theresa Vuskovich, DMD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

Key points:

  • Descovy® (emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide) is a prescription medication used to prevent and treat the human immunodeficiency type 1 virus (HIV-1).[1-4]
  • Descovy® is a daily pill for HIV-1 pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and the treatment of HIV-1 when combined with other HIV medications.[1-4]
  • A negative HIV test is required before starting Descovy® for PrEP and every three months during use.[1,3]
  • Descovy® is not a cure for HIV-1 or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Still, it can reduce the risk of sexually transmitted HIV-1 in adults and adolescents over 35 kg by 99.7% (96-week clinical trial), excluding those at risk from receptive vaginal sex.[1,3,4]

While HIV incidence rates continue to decline, HIV remains a significant public health concern.[5,6] As part of its commitment to eliminating HIV, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Descovy® in 2016 for treating HIV-1 and in 2019 for PrEP.[7] This article explains Descovy® and answers, "What is Descovy® used for?"

Descovy® for PrEP

Descovy® is a daily pill used for PrEP, a method of preventing HIV infection through medications.[1,2] Other PrEP medications include Apretude® (injection) and Truvada® (daily pill).[2] Descovy® is for men who have sex with men (MSM) or transgender women who have sex with men.[1,7] Individuals must weigh at least 35 kg to take Descovy® for PrEP.[1]

Descovy® is not for use in individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) at risk of HIV-1 infection through vaginal sex since its effectiveness for this population has not been studied.[1] During the DISCOVER clinical trial, Descovy® reduced HIV infection rates by 99.7% through 96 weeks among MSM and transgender women.[3,8]

Before starting Descovy® for PrEP, a negative HIV test is required.[1] HIV tests are required every three months during use and upon diagnosis of any other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).[1] Descovy® for PrEP does not protect against other STIs and is not intended to replace safe sex practices, such as using condoms.[1]

When starting Descovy® for PrEP, angioedema (swelling), urticaria (hives), and rash are reported side effects.[1] The most common side effect is diarrhea, followed by nausea, headache, fatigue, and stomach pain.[9] Adverse reactions include worsening of Hepatitis B infection, kidney problems, liver problems, and too much lactic acid in the blood.[1] Descovy® for PrEP is not for individuals with severe kidney disease.[1]

Descovy® for HIV treatment

Descovy® is also used for HIV-positive patients in combination with other antiretroviral (ARV) agents.[1,4] Descovy® for HIV treatment is for adults weighing at least 35 kg and for pediatric patients weighing between 14 kg and 35 kg.[1]

While Descovy® is not acure for HIV-1 or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), Descovy® can reduce HIV viral load (how much of the HIV is present in your body).[1,4,10] However, HIV-positive patients with kidney disease or patients taking a protease inhibitor should not take Descovy® for HIV treatment.[1,10]

When taking Descovy® for HIV treatment, the most common adverse reaction among HIV-positive patients was nausea.[1] Other serious adverse effects include liver problems, kidney problems, immune reconstitution syndrome, and too much lactic acid in the blood.[1,4]

Private STD consultations

Ask your healthcare provider about Descovy®

When speaking with a healthcare provider about Descovy® for PrEP or HIV treatment, it is essential to let your provider know about all the medications and supplements you are taking. Anticonvulsants (e.g., carbamazepine), drugs to treat tuberculosis (TB), and St. John's Wart can affect the effectiveness of Descovy®.[1]

When starting Descovy® for PrEP, your healthcare provider will request a negative HIV test. Your healthcare provider will also require HIV tests every three months.[1] If you acquire an STI, you will need additional HIV tests.[1] Therefore, STI panels are often recommended. Everlywell offers an STI test for individuals assigned male at birth (AMAB). The test detects 6 STIs, including HIV.

Most health insurance plans cover PrEP for free under the Affordable Care Act.[11] Other programs provide PrEP for free or at a reduced cost if you don't have insurance, including patient assistance programs (PAPs) through pharmaceutical companies and state governments.[11]

The "Ready, Set, PrEP" program offers free PrEP medications to qualified Americans, including tribal members and territory residents.[12] You can apply if you are HIV-negative and your insurance does not cover your prescription drugs.[12]

Ready, Set, PrEP covers the cost of PrEP medication for everyone who qualifies.[12] However, your income may affect the cost of your clinic visits and lab tests.[12] Talk to your healthcare provider about PrEP payment options.

Everlywell offers discreet HIV testing

Everlywell offers an HIV test you can take in the comfort of your home. The test is packaged discreetly and ships quickly. Results are available online for you to view and share with your healthcare provider. STD treatment online via Everlywell's telehealth option are a discreet and easy way to speak with a healthcare provider.

How long does it take for Descovy® to become effective?

PrEP for HIV prevention: how it works and more

What is Apretude®? Everything you need to know


  1. Descovy® Prescibing Information. Accessed May 14, 2023.
  2. About PrEP. Published July 12, 2022. Accessed May 14, 2023.
  3. DESCOVY® FOR PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) Efficacy Results. Accessed May 17, 2023.
  4. What is DESCOVY® for HIV-1 Treatment? Accessed May 18, 2023.
  5. HIV Basic statistics. Published June 21, 2022. Accessed May 17, 2023.
  6. Diagnoses of HIV Infection in the United States and Dependent Areas 2020. Published January 31, 2023. Accessed May 17, 2023.
  7. FDA approves second drug to prevent HIV infection as part of ongoing efforts to end the HIV epidemic. FDA. Published October 3, 2019. Accessed May 17, 2023.
  8. Mayer KH, Molina JM, Thompson MA, et al. Emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide vs emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (DISCOVER): primary results from a randomised, double-blind, multicentre, active-controlled, phase 3, non-inferiority trial. Lancet. 2020;396(10246):239-254. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31065-5.
  9. Learn about DESCOVY® (emtricitabine 200 mg and tenofovir alafenamide 25 mg) tablets at Accessed May 18, 2023.
  10. Sax PE, Wohl D, Yin MT, et al. Tenofovir alafenamide versus tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, coformulated with elvitegravir, cobicistat, and emtricitabine, for initial treatment of HIV-1 infection: two randomised, double-blind, phase 3, non-inferiority trials [published correction appears in Lancet. 2016 Apr 30;387(10030):1816]. Lancet. 2015;385(9987):2606-2615. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60616-X.
  11. Do you have health insurance? Published December 12, 2022. Accessed May 18, 2023.
  12. Ready, Set, PrEP program. US Health and Human Services. Accessed May 18, 2023.
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