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Lipodystrophy, Body Changes and HIV/AIDS

November 13, 2015

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Can Lipodystrophy Be Treated?

At this time, there is no simple treatment for lipodystrophy. However, there are a number of approaches that are being used to treat some of the symptoms.

Fat Loss

  • Switching or avoiding Zerit and Retrovir: People who have not developed fat loss should avoid taking the NRTIs Zerit or Retrovir to prevent the condition. Zerit is a much older HIV drug that is rarely used today. People who have fat loss may consider talking with their provider about switching these drugs for others in the same class (e.g., Viread [tenofovir] or Ziagen [abacavir]). The results of switching drugs are uncertain and may take some time; you and your health care provider may decide that changing medications is not right for you. Be sure to talk with your health care provider before stopping or switching any medications.
  • Injections, implants, and plastic surgery: Some people have procedures done to restore fullness in the face. Injections of fat or synthetic fat substitutes can fill out sunken cheeks, as can cosmetic cheek implants. However, many of these treatments are still being studied and have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for HIV-related lipodystrophy. If you are considering plastic surgery, research the options carefully. Some treatments are short-term, can be very expensive, and do not work for everyone. It is important to consult with a plastic surgeon or dermatologist experienced in treating HIV-related lipodystrophy. Also find out if your insurance plan or country-sponsored health service will cover plastic surgery.
  • For more information, see The Well Project's article on Lipodystrophy Treatments and Fat Loss

Fat Gain

  • Human growth hormone (HGH): HGH may reduce excess fat build up in the stomach; however, it can also cause fat loss in the arms, legs, or face. Two drugs, a synthetic human growth hormone (Serostim) and a synthetic growth hormone releasing factor called Egrifta (tesamorelin), have shown the ability to reduce fat build up in studies. The FDA approved the use of Egrifta for HIV-related lipodystrophy in 2010. The most commonly reported side effects of HGH are joint and muscle pain, swelling of the hands and feet, and glucose intolerance (which can lead to diabetes).
  • Liposuction: Liposuction is a plastic surgery procedure that can be used to remove fat from the back of the neck and around the breasts, but not usually in the stomach (since fat gain caused by lipodystrophy in this area is deep, internal fat). Liposuction tends to be a temporary solution and the removed fat frequently returns. It can also be painful and is generally not covered by health insurance plans, although some people have had some success getting reimbursed for this expensive procedure.
  • In February 2014, the FDA approved the use of Myalept (metreleptin, the drug form of the hormone leptin) for lipodystrophy. Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells. High levels of leptin suppress appetite and cause more fat to be used up. The most common side effects of Myalept include headache, low blood sugar, and belly pain. In addition, Myalept can increase people's risk of developing lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
  • For more information, see The Well Project's article on Lipodystrophy Treatments and Fat Gain

Increased Lipids

  • Switching HIV drugs: There are some HIV drugs that have less of an impact on cholesterol and triglycerides. These include Edurant (rilpivirine), Viramune (nevirapine), Intelence (etravirine), Isentress (raltegravir), and Selzentry (maraviroc). Reyataz and Prezista (darunavir) are also less likely to increase lipids, but both require use with Norvir (ritonavir), and Norvir does increase lipids.
  • Lipid-lowering medications: There are drugs available to reduce lipid levels. Some lipid-lowering medications interact with HIV drugs, so it is important for your health care provider to review all your medications before prescribing anything.
  • For more information, see The Well Project's article on Lipodystrophy Treatments and Metabolic Changes

Increased Glucose Levels, Insulin Resistance, and Diabetes

  • Switching HIV drugs: Switching to other HIV drugs may reduce glucose levels. Speak to your health care provider about this option before stopping any medications.
  • Medications: There are a variety of drugs that can be used to treat these conditions; talk to your health care provider about which ones might be right for you.
  • For more information, see The Well Project's article on Lipodystrophy Treatments and Metabolic Changes

All Symptoms of Lipodystrophy

  • Diet and physical activity: Increasing physical activity and improving your diet may help with all of the symptoms of lipodystrophy. Physical activity can help reduce fat gain, build muscle, and reduce elevated lipid and glucose levels.

Reducing the amount of saturated fats you eat may help reduce cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in animal products. Reducing the amount of fats and carbohydrates you eat may help reduce triglyceride levels. Increased fiber in the diet can help control insulin resistance and may help decrease stomach fat from lipodystrophy.

While there is no definite proof that these methods will improve lipodystrophy, there is no down side to eating right and staying physically active. It is a good idea to speak with a nutritionist or dietician about the steps you can take to improve your diet and level of physical activity.

Caring for Yourself

If you are experiencing lipodystrophy it is especially important to take care of your body. It is important for you to keep all of your appointments with your health care provider, get regular lab tests, and tell your provider about any changes in the way you feel or in your body shape. Recording body measurements and weight on a regular basis, whether or not you are taking HIV medications, may give you valuable information down the road.

Some of these body shape changes and metabolic problems have been linked with heart disease and strokes in people living with HIV, so make sure you are checked regularly. Other factors, such as high blood pressure, may also contribute to the risk of heart attacks and strokes and need to be treated. You can also support your body, and especially your heart, with a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and stopping smoking.

Even though the physical changes of lipodystrophy can cause emotional distress, no researcher has suggested that people with lipodystrophy should stop taking their HIV drugs. The benefits of taking HIV drugs to preserve your health far outweigh the small risk of lipodystrophy. If you are concerned about your appearance, talk to your health care provider about treatment options. There are many things that you can do to stay healthy and feel good about your body.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.


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