New Treatment Available for AIDS Cachexia

On July 15, over forty folks gathered for the first "Lunch and Learn" held by the Treatment Education Program in our new building at 139 Ralph McGill Boulevard. Tara Strawbridge, R.N., Medical Science Liaison for Serono Laboratories, talked about metabolic changes in persons living with HIV. She said that many patients with AIDS also have AIDS cachexia, a condition where the person is unusually tired, which may be the result of a loss of important tissue that makes up their muscles, organs and body fluid known as lean body mass.

AIDS Cachexia

Accompanying weight loss may be a result of metabolic changes in the way the body processes food and produces energy. In AIDS cachexia, the body requires more energy than normal and burns lean body mass instead of fat as fuel. Symptoms of AIDS cachexia may include weight loss, muscle and organ weakness, a lack of energy and an overall feeling of tiredness.

In terms of overall health for people with chronic illness (i.e., AIDS, cancer and other similar illnesses), it important to maintain strong lean body mass. Normally the body adjusts to dieting or weight loss by burning stored fat to meet its needs. However, in people with AIDS cachexia, this process is not working properly. The body's metabolic system reverses saving fat and burning lean tissue to meet its energy needs.

Simply eating more may not stop AIDS cachexia or replace lean body mass. Although good nutrition and exercise play an important role in maintaining good health, these may not be enough. In some cases, prescription medications may be indicated.

Your healthcare provider will want to determine why you are experiencing AIDS cachexia before deciding what treatment is correct for you. He or she will probably run a series of tests to measure your testosterone level as well as BIA (Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis), a simple test requiring a few electrodes attached to a finger and toes to measure lean body mass. Your healthcare provider may prescribe nutritional supplement drinks or anabolic steroids and/or testosterone replacement therapy via injection, patch or gel. Another possible treatment may be the use of a twelve-week course of Serostim.

Many of us receive spam over the Internet advertising various forms of HGH (Human Growth Hormone), touting its properties as a panacea for everything from wasting to reversing the process of aging. Ms. Strawbridge explained that Serostim is the only Human Growth Hormone approved for use in AIDS cachexia. (And by the way, did not tout it as a miracle drug for any of the Internet's outrageous claims!)

HGH interacts with a variety of cells within your body. A twelve-week course of therapy has shown that Serostim can increase your lean body mass and body weight, when compared with patients not receiving the medication. These studies are not absolute; however, they are thought to be predictive of a medical benefit. The importance of using drug therapy to increase lean body mass and weight is also not completely understood. There are further studies being performed to determine whether increasing lean body mass with a twelve-week course of Serostim improves other things, like your strength and ability to keep up with daily tasks.

Things to Be Aware of While Taking Serostim

You must be on antiretroviral medications for AIDS while taking Serostim. If you are diabetic, have a history of glucose intolerance or hyperglycemia, or have a family history of high sugar levels, your doctor should regularly check for blood sugar changes during your course of Serostim.

Additionally, Serostim should not be used to treat poor appetite, eating difficulties or your body's inability to absorb nutrients from food. Serostim should also not be taken after heart or abdominal surgery, a traumatic accident or experiencing respiratory failure.

Possible Side Effects

Side effects are generally mild while taking Serostim. Many experience muscle or joint soreness and a sense of "fullness" in the hands or feet. Most patients find that these side effects are not a reason to discontinue the use of Serostim. The addition of pain relievers or lowering the dose of Serostim can help reduce these side effects.

How Is Serostim Taken?

Serostim is injected subcutaneously (under the skin) by a needle; Serono has a new program that utilizes a device that injects the product via a jet stream. Powered by a coiled spring mechanism, SeroJet sends a finely dispersed, high-pressure stream of Serostim [somatropin (rDNA origin) for injection] through a point of entry that is five times smaller than that of a 28-gauge needle injection.

Benefits of Using Serostim

Taking Serostim may increase your lean body mass. Measurable changes are often seen after a few weeks. Keep in mind that because you are gaining lean body mass while also losing fat, your overall weight may not change. If you continue to lose weight after two weeks, it is important to contact you healthcare provider immediately.

Good nutrition is important to your overall health and well-being. Speak with a nutritionist or your doctor about how to maintain a healthy weight based on your current health and body condition.

Cost of Serostim

This is somewhat daunting. The cost of a twelve-week course of Serostim is close to the cost of a small car. However, most healthcare plans contract with Serono to negotiate this cost. Medicaid also covers it in some states. SeroCare is Serono's network to work out such details. They may be reached at or 1-800-714-2437.