Side Effects of HIV Medicines

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HIV and Lipodystrophy

Last Reviewed: August 16, 2018

Key Points

  • Lipodystrophy refers to the changes in body fat that affect some people with HIV. Lipodystrophy can include buildup or loss of body fat.
  • Many people with HIV will never develop lipodystrophy.
  • The exact cause of lipodystrophy is unknown. It may be due to HIV infection or medicines used to treat HIV. Newer HIV medicines are less likely to cause the condition than HIV medicines developed in the past.

What is lipodystrophy?

Lipodystrophy refers to the changes in body fat that affect some people with HIV. Lipodystrophy can include buildup of body fat or loss of body fat. Many people with HIV will never develop lipodystrophy.

Fat buildup (also called lipohypertrophy) can occur:
  • Around the organs in the belly (also called the abdomen).
  • On the back of the neck between the shoulders (called a buffalo hump).
  • In the breasts.
  • Just under the skin. (The fatty bumps are called lipomas.)
Fat loss (also called lipoatrophy) tends to occur:
  • In the arms and legs.
  • In the buttocks.
  • In the face.

What causes lipodystrophy?

The exact cause of lipodystrophy is unknown. It may be due to HIV infection or medicines used to treat HIV. Although more research is needed to prove that there is a link between HIV medicines and lipodystrophy, some HIV medicines have been associated with the condition. Newer HIV medicines are less likely to cause lipodystrophy than HIV medicines developed in the past.

Other risk factors for lipodystrophy include:
  • Age: Older people are at higher risk.
  • Race: Whites have the highest risk.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to have fat loss in the arms and legs. Women are more likely to have buildup of breast and abdominal fat.
  • Length and severity of HIV infection: The risk is higher with longer and more severe HIV infection.

If you are concerned about lipodystrophy, talk to your health care provider. They may recommend that you switch to a different HIV medicine.

How is lipodystrophy treated?

There are several ways to manage lipodystrophy. A healthy diet and daily exercise may help to build muscle and reduce fat buildup.

Liposuction (surgical removal of fat) is sometimes used to reduce a buffalo hump. Fat or a fat-like substance can be used as a filler for fat loss in the face. The filler is injected in the cheeks or around the eyes and mouth.

There are medicines that may help lessen the effects of lipodystrophy. Talk to your health care provider to discuss your treatment options.

This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

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