Side Effects of HIV Medicines

  • Table of Contents  Table of Contents

Need Help?

  • Call 1-800-448-0440
  • (1 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET)
  • Send us an email

HIV and High Cholesterol

Last Reviewed: October 28, 2019

Key Points

  • High cholesterol (also called hyperlipidemia) refers to high levels of cholesterol in the blood. High cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Risk factors for high cholesterol include a high-fat diet, physical inactivity, and smoking. Some HIV medicines may also increase the risk of high cholesterol in people with HIV.
  • Eating foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and getting regular exercise can help prevent or lower high cholesterol levels. Medicines are also sometimes used to treat high cholesterol.
  • In people with HIV, treatment for high cholesterol may include changing an HIV regimen to avoid taking HIV medicines that can increase cholesterol levels.

What is high cholesterol?

High cholesterol (also called hyperlipidemia) refers to high levels of cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the body. Cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, including egg yolks, meat, and cheese.

The body needs cholesterol to function properly, but having too much can cause problems. High cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease.

What are risk factors for high cholesterol?

The most common causes of high cholesterol are unhealthy lifestyle habits, including the following:

The following are additional risk factors for high cholesterol:

  • Age—as people get older, their cholesterol levels tend to rise
  • A family history of high cholesterol
  • Other medical conditions, such as diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Certain medicines

Some HIV medicines may also increase the risk of high cholesterol in people with HIV.

What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

Usually high cholesterol has no symptoms. A blood test is used to measure cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol testing is recommended before and after a person starts taking HIV medicines. If cholesterol levels are normal, testing is recommended once a year. If cholesterol levels are too high, more frequent testing is recommended.

What steps can a person take to prevent high cholesterol?

People can take these steps to prevent high cholesterol or lower cholesterol levels.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products, eat more foods that are high in fiber, and eat more vegetables and fruits.
  • Get active. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can improve cholesterol levels.
  • Quit smoking.To find tips and tools to help you quit smoking, visit the Department of Health and Human Services’ Smokefree.gov website.

What is the treatment for high cholesterol?

Treatment for high cholesterol begins with lifestyle changes. Sometimes cholesterol-lowering medicine is also needed. The most common medicines used to reduce cholesterol levels are called statins.

In people with HIV, treatment for high cholesterol may include changing an HIV regimen to avoid taking HIV medicines that can increase cholesterol levels.

Some HIV medicines can interact with medicines that lower cholesterol levels. Health care providers carefully consider potential drug interactions between HIV medicines and any other medicines a person may be taking.

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

Need Help?

  • Call 1-800-448-0440
  • (1 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET)
  • Send us an email