Print this page    •   Back to Web version of article

First-Ever Definition of HIV-Associated Lipodystrophy

Summer 2001

Pittsburgh, July 19 -- An AIDS researcher from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) today proposed the first definition of HIV-associated lipodystrophy syndrome (HIV-LS) -- the set of physical and metabolic changes that many individuals develop primarily while on HIV drug therapy.

Dr. Lawrence Kingsley, Ph.D., proposed the definition in Chicago at the Sessions of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC).

"Because there has been no formal definition of the HIV-associated lipodystrophy syndrome up to this point, the prevalence of reported cases of this condition have varied widely -- from less than 10 percent of HIV-infected persons to more than 80 percent," noted Dr. Kingsley, associate professor of infectious diseases and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh GSPH. "We are proposing a description of the syndrome that can guide physicians and other health care providers in properly diagnosing their patients."

HIV-LS involves changes in fat distribution throughout the body, along with cholesterol and glucose abnormalities, in HIV infected individuals taking highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) or antiretroviral therapy (ART), and in some people who are not on drug therapy but who have long-term HIV infection. The body shape changes experienced by patients are dramatic and anxiety provoking, while the changes in lipids and glucose metabolism may increase their long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.

Signs of HIV-LS are a wasting, or a reduction in fat (lipatrophy), in the face, arms, legs, and buttocks, and an increase in fat (lipodystrophy) in the abdomen, back of the neck and breasts. The added abdominal fat is primarily visceral fat, which accumulates within the abdominal cavity, around the organs.

Dr. Kingsley's proposed definition of HIV-LS follows:

  1. Peripheral lipoatrophy only -- moderate or greater subcutaneous fat loss in two or more of the following areas: arms, legs, buttocks, or face which are scored as mild, moderate, or severe.

  2. "Mixed" lipodystrophy -- peripheral lipoatrophy (see above) plus moderate or greater increased fat accumulation in the abdomen or breasts, with or without additional fat at the back of the neck.

  3. Peripheral lipoatrophy or mixed lipodystrophy along with metabolic abnormalities of glucose metabolism or lipids.

In monitoring HIV-infected individuals every three to six months, Dr. Kingsley suggests that health care providers keep track of changes in height, weight, body-mass index, arm, thigh, waist, hip and waist-to-hip ratio using the standardized protocol.

Dr. Kingsley recommends dual energy X-ray absorptometry (DEXA) scan for quantifying muscle, bone and fat in arms, legs and abdomen, and computed tomography (CT) or MRI to quantify and discriminate between visceral and subcutaneous fat.

Study (MACS), a National Institutes of Health-funded epidemiological study of HIV infection in homosexual men. The University of Pittsburgh GSPH is one of four sites nationwide participating in MACS. Dr. Kingsley is co-principal investigator of the Pittsburgh site, known locally as the Pitt Men's study. MACS is currently in its 16th year of surveying the natural history of HIV.

Editorial Note

We are all waiting with baited breath to hear from WIHS (The Women's Interagency HIV Study) about lipodystrophy in women.

Yes, we know MACS has 16 years of surveying HIV progression, and WIHS only has 7 years, BUT lipids started at the same time in men and women, right?

Back to the Women Alive Summer 2001 contents page.

This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

General Disclaimer: is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, consult your health care provider.