– Weight loss in people with HIV has many possible causes. If you lose weight fast, it may be because you have another infection along with HIV. This type of illness is called an opportunistic infection.

Gradual weight loss may be due to problems with nutrition. You may lose weight if you can’t eat enough food or if your body can’t absorb all the nutrients from the food you eat. Pain in your mouth, from sores or a yeast infection called thrush, can make it hard to eat.

You may not feel like eating because you are sick to your stomach or food just doesn’t appeal to you. HIV itself or HIV medicines can cause you to feel this way.

If you have diarrhea, your body may not be able to absorb all of the nutrition from your food. If you are a man and you have a low level of the hormone testosterone, your body may not be able to turn your food into muscle tissue.

When you lose weight, you lose muscle, fat, or both. Exercising to build muscle and eating healthy foods are part of treatment. Your doctor also may change your medicines or add new ones.

The key points :
– Weight loss is one of the most common symptoms of untreated HIV infection.
– It can occur at any stage of HIV infection.
– Unintentional weight loss can be a sign of an HIV-related infection.
– HIV treatment can help you avoid or reverse weight loss.

Weight loss, or wasting, is one of the most common symptoms of untreated HIV infection, and can occur at any stage of infection. It needs to be taken seriously because unintentional loss of weight is often a sign of an active HIV-related infection or disease.

Malnutrition can also reduce the strength of the immune system.

Weight loss occurs when the body is using up more nutrients than it is absorbing from food. This can happen for several reasons during HIV infection:

HIV can increase the rate at which the body uses nutrients (increased metabolism)
HIV can alter the lining of the gut, making it harder to absorb nutrients (malabsorption)
other gut infections can cause malabsorption and/or diarrhoea, you may eat less than you used to (and need to) because of loss of appetite during ill health, specific conditions may make it harder to eat, such as mouth and throat infections
some drugs may suppress your appetite or cause side-effects that put you off food, such as nausea, vomiting, indigestion or altered taste.

The most important ways to prevent weight loss are to treat HIV-related infections promptly, and to ensure that your nutritional intake is adequate. It is much easier to prevent weight loss in the first place than to try to regain weight afterwards.

It is sensible to arrange to see an NHS dietitian soon after you are diagnosed HIV-positive. Some large clinics have dietitians who specialise in the needs of people with HIV.

A dietitian can help you look at your diet to ensure you have an adequate intake of all the main types of nutrients, and recommend any changes to fit in with any drugs you are taking and to help you cope with problems such as nausea. If necessary you may be prescribed food supplements or drinks to increase your nutritional intake. This is particularly important during or immediately after periods of ill health.

You can help by taking symptoms such as loss of appetite, persistent nausea and diarrhoea seriously and seeking prompt medical advice. Your doctor may be able to help by treating the cause, or offering medicines to relieve the symptoms, or if the problems are themselves caused by treatments, by prescribing different drugs.

Good hygiene when preparing food and thorough cooking will help to reduce the chance of getting gut infections such as Salmonella and Campylobacter.

If your CD4 count is very low, you may be advised to take extra care, as your immune system is less able to fight infections. Other precautions such as boiling drinking water and avoiding contact with human or animal faeces can cut down the risk of contracting parasites such as Cryptosporidium.

HIV treatment is a key element in a strategy to avoid or reverse unintentional weight loss. By boosting the immune system, it may also be the best available therapy for gut parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Microsporidium, which are hard to treat directly.

This article originally appeared on



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here