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Managing Drug Side Effects

August 2002

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!


Adiposity: A buildup of fat, usually around the gut, in the breasts, and/or the base of neck. This is a possible symptom of lipodystrophy (See Lipodystrophy).

Atrophy: A loss of fat, usually in the arms, legs, or face. This is a possible symptom of lipodystrophy (See Lipodystrophy).

Alopecia: Hair loss.

Anemia: An abnormally low number of red blood cells, as measured by hematocrit, or hemoglobin; the cells and proteins responsible for transporting oxygen to the body's tissues and organs. Anemia can lead to feelings of fatigue.

Anaphylaxis: A severe generalized allergic reaction, characterized by low blood pressure, difficulty breathing and hives.

Anorexia: An involuntary lack or loss of appetite that can lead to significant weight loss.

Aphasia: An inability to speak or understand speech.

Aphthous Ulcer: A painful sore in the mouth or throat; also called canker sores.

Arthralgia: Joint pain.

Asthenia: A general feeling of weakness; similar to fatigue.

Ataxia: A lack of muscular coordination.

Bone Marrow Suppression: A general side effect associated with many chemotherapeutic drugs used to treat cancer and, sometimes, anti-HIV drugs. Bone marrow suppression may lead to a decrease in red blood cells (See Anemia), white blood cells (See Leukopenia) or platelets (See Thrombocytopenia). Bone marrow suppression is also referred to as myelosuppression.

Buffalo Hump: A build-up of fat at the back of the neck associated with lipodystrophy.

Cardiomyopathy: Damage to the heart muscle.

Diabetes: An inability of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, to regulate the amount of glucose (sugars) in the blood. Type 1 diabetes typically occurs in childhood and is characterized by an inability of the pancreas to produce insulin; this type of diabetes often requires injections of insulin. Type 2 diabetes, or adult onset diabetes, occurs when the body "resists" insulin and glucose levels remain increased. Therapy with protease inhibitors has been associated with Type 2 diabetes. Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, increased hunger, vision changes and fatigue. If left unchecked, diabetes can be life threatening.

Dyspepsia: Indigestion or "upset stomach."

Dysphagia: Difficulty in swallowing.

Dyspnea: Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.

Edema: Swelling caused by an abnormal accumulation of fluid in body tissues.

Gastritis: Inflammation of the stomach.

Granulocytopenia: An abnormally low number of granulocytes, a type of white blood cell responsible for controlling bacterial infections.

Hematuria: The presence of blood in the urine.

Hemiparesis: Paralysis on one side of the body.

Hepatitis: Inflammation of the liver caused by either a microorganism (such as Hepatitis C Virus) or chemicals (such as medication or alcohol). Hepatitis can cause the skin to yellow (See Jaundice), enlarged liver (See Hepatomegaly), fever, fatigue, nausea and increased liver enzymes.

Hepatomegaly: An enlarged liver.

Hepatotoxicity: Toxicity affecting the liver.

Hypercholesterolemia: Increased levels of cholesterol in the blood. If left unchecked or untreated, hypercholesterolemia may increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Hyperglycemia: An increased level of glucose, or sugars, in the blood. May be a sign of diabetes. (See Diabetes.)

Hyperhydrosis: Excessive sweating.

Hypertension: Increased blood pressure.

Hypertriglyceremia: An increased level of triglycerides, or fat, in the blood.

Insomnia: Lacking the ability to fall asleep or frequent periods of waking up in the middle of the night.

Insulin Resistance:The inability of cells in the body to make proper use of insulin, a hormone needed to process sugar (glucose) correctly. Insulin resistance can cause insulin levels and glucose levels to increase in the blood and may play a role in the development of lipodystrophy (See Lipodystrophy).

Jaundice: Yellow pigmentation of the skin and whites of the eyes caused by elevated blood levels of bilirubin. The condition may be caused by liver, gallbladder, or pancreas damage.

Leukopenia: An abnormally low number of leukocytes -- more commonly referred to as white blood cells -- circulating in the blood; frequently the result of drug-induced bone marrow suppression.

Lipodystrophy: A syndrome believed to be associated with antiretroviral therapy and generally referred to as a redistribution of body fat. Lipodystrophy may be defined as an increased amount of fat around the gut and at the base of the neck, as well as decreased fat in the legs, arms, and face. Lipodystrophy is often associated with high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and glucose in the blood (See Hypercholesterolemia; Hypertriglyceridemia; Insulin Resistance; Hyperglycemia).

Lymphadenopathy: Swollen lymph nodes.

Malaise: A general feeling of discomfort or illness.

Mutagenicity: The ability of a drug or medical procedure to cause damage to the genetic material (DNA) contained in sperm or eggs.

Myalgia: Muscle pain.

Myelitis: Inflammation of either the spinal cord or the bone marrow.

Myelosuppression: (See Bone Marrow Suppression.)

Myelotoxic: A drug that causes damage to bone marrow. (See Bone Marrow Suppression.)

Myopathy: Muscle weakness or loss.

Nephritis: Swelling or inflammation of the kidneys.

Nephrolithiasis: More commonly referred to as kidney stones.

Nephrotoxicity: Drugs that can cause damage to the kidneys.

Neuropathy: Nerve injury. Peripheral (in the extremities) neuropathy, is often described as numbness, tingling, burning or pain in the hands and feet.

Neutropenia: A decreased number of neutrophils in the blood; a specific type of white blood cell responsible for combating bacterial infections. (See Granulocytopenia.)

Pancreatitis: Swelling or inflammation of the pancreas. If left unchecked, it can result in severe abdominal pain and death. Pancreatitis is often associated with an increase in blood levels of amylase, an enzyme produced by the pancreas.

Paresthesia: Numbness, burning or tingling sensations, which may also be a sign of neuropathy. Oral (circumoral) paresthesia, a side effect of some of the protease inhibitors used to treat HIV, is described as numbness, burning, or tingling around the mouth.

Paronychia: Deformities of fingernails or toenails; ingrown toenails.

Photosensitivity: Increased sensitivity of the skin to sunlight.

Pruritis: Itchy skin.

Pyrogenic: Drugs that can cause fever.

Retinal Detachment: Some drugs used to treat CMV retinitis, such as intraocular implants or injections, can cause a portion of the retina to separate from the inner wall of the eye. If left untreated, retinal detachment can lead to vision loss.

Side Effect: An unintended reaction to a drug or medical procedure.

Somnolence: Feelings of sleepiness.

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome: A serious and sometimes fatal disease characterized by fever, severe rash, blisters, nausea, and vomiting. The syndrome may be triggered by a severe allergic reaction to certain drugs.

Stomatitis: Swelling or inflammation of the mucous membranes in the mouth.

Teratogenicity: The ability of a drug to cause damage to a developing fetus.

Thrombocytopenia: Abnormally low number of platelets in the blood. Platelets are produced by the body to stop bleeding.

Toxicity: The harmful side effects of a drug.

Uveitis: Swelling or inflammation of the uvea, a section of the eye.

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

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This article was provided by AIDS Community Research Initiative of America. Visit ACRIA's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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