Appetite Loss

Part of HIV & You: Managing Gut Symptoms

Managing Gut Symptoms

& You

Appetite Loss

And, of course, many of the medications used to combat HIV can also cause a loss of appetite. A temporary loss of appetite may not be cause for worry, but eating very little or not eating at all is not healthy and can lead to a host of other health concerns. One of the biggest problems is known as "wasting," or extreme weight loss (more than 10% of body weight).


A few HIV medications may interfere with appetite:

  • Combivir
  • Epivir
  • Norvir
  • Retrovir
  • Trizivir
  • Ziagen
A temporary loss of appetite may be of little concern; but not eating enough over a long period of time is not good for anyone.



Once again, a lack of appetite can have many causes. Sometimes it may be psychological -- due to depression or the stress of living with HIV. Sometimes it's physical -- another illness (maybe something as simple as a cold) may take away your desire to eat.

What about marijuana?

Maybe you're wondering, if you're going to take Marinol, could you use marijuana itself? Many doctors and researchers believe that smoking a little marijuana may help increase your appetite. While marijuana is forbidden by U.S. federal law, as of this writing, 16 states and the District of Columbia have passed "medical marijuana" laws that permit limited use of marijuana for health reasons. "Buyers' clubs" operate in a number of cities, and some even provide medical marijuana at low or no cost to those with limited incomes.

for more information on medical marijuana and HIV/AIDS.


There are two prescription treatments that doctors tend to prescribe most for appetite loss. Megace works well to bolster appetite and has shown to improve weight gain, but almost all of the weight gain is in the form of fat or water. The drug is actually used in cancer therapy to help with weight gain, but also may change the balance of hormones in the body and decrease testosterone production.

The other drug that works well to stimulate appetite and relieve nausea and vomiting is known as Marinol. This is a synthetic form of THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana, which is known to stimulate eating. Since it can leave you feeling stoned, it may not be the best choice for people in drug recovery programs.

Another possible alternative is Remeron, an antidepressant taken before bedtime that has been reported to make people hungry when they wake up. However, it is not officially approved for use to increase appetite; and it can be sedating, so it is important not to take it during the day.


"I always stay hydrated, so that you're flushing out your system. I know I need to drink more water. I feel like I dry out faster." -- Eric, diagnosed in 2008