People with HIV may experience undesired weight loss due to the effects of the HIV infection or as a side effect of HIV medication. Losing too much weight can be harmful. A range of dietary changes and treatments can help with weight gain.
Factors relating to HIV such as opportunistic infections, metabolism changes, mental health conditions, and side effects of HIV medication may lead to unwanted weight loss.
People may also refer to severe unwanted weight loss with HIV as HIV wasting syndrome.
Treatments such as dietary changes, exercise to build muscle mass, and medications can all help people gain weight and prevent losing weight.
In this article, we look at causes, prevention, and treatments for HIV weight loss. We also explore whether weight loss is ever safe for people with HIV.
There are many reasons why people with HIV may experience unwanted weight loss. Possible causes include:
Opportunistic infections (OIs) are illnesses that affect people with HIV more frequently and severely than those without HIV due to a weakened immune system.
OIs may cause weight loss in people with HIV. Effective HIV treatment means there are now fewer cases of OIs in people with HIV.
Nutrient deficiencies and low calorie intake
HIV weight loss may be due to nutritional deficiencies or not taking in enough calories, which can happen as a result of:
- neurologic disease, which may affect food intake or perception of hunger
- food insecurity due to psychosocial or financial issues
- malabsorption of nutrients due to nausea or diarrhea
- problems with the mouth or OIs making it more difficult to chew or swallow
- gastrointestinal issues, which may affect the absorption of nutrients or make people feel full more quickly
Research has found a link between HIV weight loss and changes in metabolism. This may be due to:
- changes to metabolic demands
- cytokine dysregulation, which is a change in proteins involved in cell signaling
- hormonal changes
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