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Caring for Your Gut: Dealing With Diarrhea, Nausea and Other Stomach Problems if You Have HIV/AIDS

October 7, 2014

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Nausea, Vomiting and Loss of Appetite

Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite often occur as side effects of starting or switching HIV drugs. For many people, nausea goes away by itself after a few weeks on the drugs. Other people require help from drugs called antiemetics (anti-nausea drugs). Some antiemetics interact with HIV drugs, so be sure to speak to your health care provider about all the medications you are taking (including over-the-counter drugs, prescription medications, street drugs, herbs, and supplements), even if you only use them occasionally.

Megace (a hormone called megestrol) and Marinol (dronabinol; a synthetic version of marijuana) may increase appetite. Marijuana may be effective for nausea and loss of appetite but is not legal or available everywhere.

Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite can be particularly problematic for pregnant women who may be experiencing morning sickness because of their pregnancy.

Ways to cope with nausea include:

  • Eating dry crackers
  • Drinking fluids frequently
  • Eating small meals more often
  • Sticking to bland foods that are easier to digest
  • Relaxing before meals and chewing slowly
  • Sipping peppermint tea, ginger tea, or ginger ale
  • Adding nutmeg to your food or drinks

Gas, Bloating and Heartburn

Gas (farting) and bloating can usually be managed by not eating fatty foods or foods such as beans, broccoli, and vegetable skins. Over the counter or prescription drugs may also be used to relieve gas.

Heartburn (acid reflux) causes a burning sensation in your chest. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with your heart. Rather, heartburn occurs when stomach acid comes backs up into your esophagus (food pipe). To avoid heartburn, try to stop eating certain foods:

  • Spicy or fatty foods
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Citrus juices (orange, grapefruit, lemon, and tomato)

If symptoms do not go away, it is important that you see your health care provider. Heartburn may be a symptom of GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, which can sometimes lead to cancer of the esophagus.

Taking Care of Yourself

HIV, other infections, and HIV drugs can cause many side effects that involve the gut. When problems in the gut are the result of drug side effects, they usually go away after a few days or weeks after adjusting to the new drug. However, for some people living with HIV, these side effects can last longer and have a serious impact on both health and quality of life.

It is best to report gut symptoms to your health care provider to see if they are a side effect of treatment or a symptom of a different medical condition. You can also use the following tips to manage symptoms and keep your gut as healthy as possible:

  • Drink lots of water (at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day)
  • Eat high-fiber foods (whole grain rice, bread, oats, vegetables, and fresh fruits)
  • Cut down on caffeine, fried foods, sugar, and animal fat
  • See your health care provider on a regular basis
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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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