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HIV/AIDS and Lipodystrophy Treatments Part I: Treatments for Fat Gain

November 13, 2015

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Table of Contents


Fat is needed for the body to function. It plays an important role in keeping the skin and hair healthy, protecting body organs, and maintaining body temperature. Fat is also stored to use for energy.

There are different types of fat found in the body. Visceral fat is located deep in the belly under the muscle. Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat just under the skin. Lipids are fats or fat-like substances in the blood, such as cholesterol and triglycerides.

Lipodystrophy means abnormal fat changes. It is used to describe a number of potentially unhealthy changes including:

  • Body shape changes

    • Lipohypertrophy: Fat gain in the breasts or back of the neck (buffalo hump); visceral fat gain in the belly; round lumps that appear under the skin (lipomas)
    • Lipoatrophy: Loss of subcutaneous fat in the arms, legs, butt, or face (sunken cheeks)
  • Blood fat and sugar changes (metabolic problems)

    • Increased fats (lipids) in the blood
    • Increased sugar (glucose) in the blood

People living with HIV (HIV+) who have lipodystrophy can have both body shape changes and metabolic problems. Some treatments can help with certain lipodystrophy changes, but no existing treatment gets rid of them all.

This article looks at treatments for fat gain. See also Lipodystrophy Treatments Part II: Treatments for Fat Loss, and Lipodystrophy Treatments Part III: Treatments for Metabolic Changes.

Treatments for Fat Gain

Fat gain, especially visceral fat in the belly, can cause a number of problems. First, belly fat can make people feel badly about how their bodies look and can lead to depression. Many people living with HIV believe that the fat gain or fat loss of lipodystrophy marks them as living with HIV and increases the stigma they face. Second, additional belly fat can lead to bloating, tiredness, and heart problems. Fat gain can not only affect the way you look, but also be harmful to your health.

No one is really sure what causes fat gain in some people living with HIV. Sometimes it happens when a person puts on weight because of lack of exercise or getting older. However, fat gain may also be linked to the use of certain HIV drugs, including protease inhibitors. There are several treatments being explored for HIV-related fat gain, many of which are listed below. However, the major treatment for lipodystrophy involves changing HIV drugs to those with less potential to cause fat gain. It is important to talk with your provider before stopping or switching any of your HIV drugs.

Human Growth Hormone

Human growth hormone (HGH) is naturally produced in the human body. Two drugs have been developed based on HGH that have shown the ability to reduce visceral belly fat:

  • Serostim (somatropin): This drug is a synthetic (made in a laboratory) version of HGH
  • Egrifta (tesamorelin): This drug is a synthetic growth hormone releasing factor, which causes the body to produce more HGH

Serostim is taken by injecting it under the skin every day or every-other-day. It helps adults grow muscle. If the drug is stopped, the visceral fat comes back. The main side effects are joint aches, excess water held in the body, increased lipoatrophy, and increased blood sugar levels, including diabetes.

Serostim is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat HIV wasting (unwanted loss of body mass or size), but not HIV-related fat lipodystrophy. The FDA said there was not enough safety and efficacy data to approve it to treat lipodystrophy, especially for long-term use.

Since Serostim is not approved for HIV-related fat gain, it is not currently covered by insurance for this purpose. It can be expensive, costing over $12,000 a month. There is a patient assistance program for Serostim at

Egrifta has also been shown to decrease visceral belly fat. Like Serostim, people who stopped Egrifta had their belly fat return. Egrifta requires daily injections, but seems to have milder side effects than Serostim. It does not cause lipoatrophy and it may lower triglycerides.

Egrifta was approved for HIV-related lipodystrophy in 2010. Check with your insurance company to see if it covers Egrifta. If you need assistance paying for this drug, go to for more information.

Over-the-counter nutritional human growth hormone supplements are often advertised. Beware of these – there is neither proof that they work nor proof that they are safe.


Leptin is a hormone that is produced by fat cells. High levels of leptin suppress appetite and cause more fat to be used up.

Leptin treatment requires two injections under the skin a day, although other doses may be studied in the future. In a small trial of men living with HIV who had lipodystrophy, visceral fat decreased by almost one third after six months, with no change in subcutaneous fat. In February 2014, the FDA approved the use of Myalept (metreleptin, the drug form of the hormone leptin) for lipodystrophy. The most common side effects include headache, low blood sugar, and belly pain. In addition, Myalept can increase people's risk of developing lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

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Related Stories

Lipodystrophy Treatments Part II: Treatments for Fat Loss
Lipodystrophy Treatments Part III: Treatments for Metabolic Changes
An HIVer's Guide to Metabolic Complications
More on Lipodystrophy Treatment

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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