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Azathioprine

About your Medicine

Azathioprine belongs to a group of medicines called immuno-suppressants. As the word immuno-suppressant suggests, the function of these drugs is to suppress the immune system, which is the body’s natural defence system. The aim is to dampen down the immune system enough to stop it rejecting the transplant kidney while still keeping it active enough to fight infections. All patients who have a kidney transplant need to take drugs called immuno-suppressants.

Azathioprine is also taken for autoimmune diseases for example vasculitis. It is used to try and improve kidney function and to dampen down the disease, stopping it from causing any further damage to the body.

Azathioprine is only available from your doctor.

You should NOT be vaccinated with some vaccines whilst receiving azathioprine. (Vaccines are injections that can be given to help prevent you catching some diseases, for example, polio). For vaccines you can and cannot have see the vaccine page.

Do not stop taking the drug or start taking it only occasionally, you will lose your kidney or the vasculitis condition may go out of control and your kidneys may fail completely.

Taking your Medicine

You should swallow the tablets whole with a glass of water, with meals. Do not chew the tablets. Your recommended daily dose should be taken as a single dose at teatime.

Take the tablets exactly as directed by your doctor. Please read the label carefully.

If you forget to take a dose, take the missed dose as soon as you remember, unless it is nearly time to take the next one. Never take two doses at the same time. Take the remaining doses at the correct times.

Your doctor may want to take regular blood samples while you are taking azathioprine to make sure that dose is OK for you.

Unwanted effects

Azathioprine may cause side effects in some patients. Most side effects are nothing to worry about. Common side effects are feeling sick, being sick and loss of appetite. Taking the tablets with food should reduce this. Other rare, more serious side effects include fever, rashes, decrease in blood cell numbers and liver or kidney problems that are noticed by changes in your blood tests.

You are more likely to develop infections whilst receiving azathioprine and any infections may be worse than normal. You should report any signs of infection to your doctor. You should report any unexpected bruising, bleeding, or rashes to your doctor.

You should avoid sunbathing and use a sunblock in sunny weather. You are recommended to see your doctor about regular skin checks and cervical smears for women. This is because you are more likely to develop skin or cervical cancers which are not serious if noticed.

All tablets may cause side effects in some people. If you think that you are suffering from a side effect of one of your tablets it is important NOT to stop taking the tablet, but see your doctor who will be able to change that tablet for one which will suit you better.

Storing your tablets

Store all your tablets in their original containers, in a cool dry place out of the sight and reach of children. Only remove them from the bottle/box when it is time to take them.

Always take your tablets as directed by your doctor and only stop them on the advice of your doctor.

Do not throw out any expired or unwanted medicine by flushing them down the toilet or throwing them away. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.


The National Kidney Federation cannot accept responsibility for information provided. The above is for guidance only. Patients are advised to seek further information from their own doctor.

NKF Controlled Document No. 69: Azathioprine written: 22/04/2000 last reviewed: 12/09/2016