Gradual HIV related weight loss
Jan 12, 2005
I tested positive for HIV and Hep C around 1985 due to a Hemophilia clotting factor transfusion. I just started HIV meds in May 2001 after my CD4 count dropped from a steady 600-700 to less than 100. The doctor started me on a regimen of Sustiva, Zerit, and Epivir. My viral load quickly dropped to <50 and has remained at that level or slightly above ever since. Also, my CD4 count has gradually increased from less than 100 to over 400. But I also started noticing gradual weight loss in my arms, legs, and face about 2 years ago. My weight has dropped from a healthy 165 to 150 over the past two years (I'm 5' 9") since I started my HIV meds. Due to my concerns, the doctor switched the Zerit to Viread in late 2003 to help reduce any related lipoatrophy. I eat very frequent meals and even supplement shakes to help maintain my weight. It seems, however, that my body has trouble retaining any water for the long term. My mouth and skin always feels really dry. I started the peg-interferon/ribavirin treatment during May 2004 for Hep C. Since then, I've noticed my weight decrease a couple of more pounds after that treatment began. The Hep C viral load decreased from >1M to 20 over the past 3 months. I am concerned with my gradual weight loss caused by potential side effects of my medications. I spoke to my doctor and he is not really concerned with a weight loss of 15 pounds. He plans to leave me on the same regimen at least until I get through with my 48-week Hep C treatment. I work out and exercise regularly and have lab work checked often. There isn't any apparent thyroid or CBC problems besides the recent decline in RBC and WBC due to the Hep C therapy (being given Neupogen for the low WBC). I lost the majority of the weight before I even started the Hep C treatment in May. I started working full-time in late 2001 just a year after starting my meds. I haven't had any problems with side effects or other illnesses that caused my to stay home from work. Is it possible my HIV medications are causing poor absorbtion and gradual weight loss, and if so, should I consider changing any of my meds to stop this noticable decline? Also, is there any special tests my doctor should consider to make sure the side effects aren't causing other problems?
Any help would be greatly appreciated. I am at a loss to explain the weight decline given so many variables.
Response from Dr. Conway
Thanks for your clear and detailed question. It appears to me that you lost 15 pounds shortly after beginning antiretroviral therapy. You have not had any further weight loss since then, including a period of time on therapy for HCV. The antiretrovirals have been successful in reducing your viral load and increasing your CD4 count.
Although the weight loss occured mainly in your arms, legs and face, it appears a bit fast for lipoatrophy. This being said, I completely agree with the change in therapy from stavudine to tenofovir to prevent any progression of lipoatrophy if this is contributing to the problem.
It is not uncommon to lose weight shortly after starting antiretrovirals, due to the side effects that often occur (nausea, anorexia, etc...). However, people usually gain this back over time, but not always. I would just want to make sure that your doctor has made sure that you do not have a chronic infection or a cancer (although in both cases, I would expect the weight loss to progress, not stay the same) and to make sure you are on medications that limit the risk of lipoatrophy (which you are). Otherwise, I would make sure that you take in as many calories as you can and perhaps limit the aerobic part of your exercise (but not eliminate it) to conserve cardiovascualr fitness but not encourage weight loss.
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