Side Effects of HIV Medicines

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HIV and Hyperlipidemia

Last Reviewed: November 26, 2018

Key Points

  • Hyperlipidemia refers to high levels of fat in the blood, including cholesterol and triglycerides. Hyperlipidemia increases the risk of heart disease.
  • HIV infection and treatment with some HIV medicines can increase the risk of hyperlipidemia. Other risk factors for hyperlipidemia include a family history of hyperlipidemia, a high-fat diet, and smoking.
  • Eating foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and being active on most days of the week can help control blood fat levels. Medicines are also sometimes used to reduce high blood fat levels.
  • In people with HIV, treatment for hyperlipidemia may include changing an HIV regimen to avoid taking HIV medicines that can increase blood fat levels.

What is hyperlipidemia?

Hyperlipidemia is the medical term for high levels of fat in the blood. Fats in the blood (also called lipids) include cholesterol and triglycerides. The body makes cholesterol and triglycerides. The fats also come from some of the foods we eat.

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

What are the symptoms of hyperlipidemia?

Usually hyperlipidemia has no symptoms. A blood test is used to measure levels of fat in the blood and to detect hyperlipidemia. 

Testing for hyperlipidemia is recommended both before and after a person starts taking HIV medicines. If blood fat levels are normal, testing is recommended once a year. If blood fat levels are too high, more frequent testing is recommended.

What are risk factors for hyperlipidemia in people with HIV?

HIV infection and treatment with some HIV medicines can increase the risk of hyperlipidemia by raising blood fat levels.

The following are additional risk factors for hyperlipidemia:

  • Family history of hyperlipidemia
  • Other medical conditions, including high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, and an underactive thyroid gland
  • Age—as people get older, their cholesterol levels tend to rise
  • A high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use
  • Lack of physical activity

Many of these risk factors for hyperlipidemia can be controlled by lifestyle choices. For example, maintaining a healthy weight is one way to reduce the risk of hyperlipidemia.

What are other steps a person can take to prevent hyperlipidemia?

Here are additional steps to take to reduce the risk of hyperlipidemia. People who already have hyperlipidemia can also follow these steps to lower their blood fat 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 fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Get active. Get at least 30 minutes of aerobic physical activity on most days of the week.
  • If you smoke, quit. Nicotine gum and patches can make it easier to quit. To learn more about strategies to quit smoking, read this fact sheet from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
  • Drink in moderation. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks a day; women no more than one drink.

What is the treatment for hyperlipidemia?

Lifestyle changes may not be enough to reduce blood fat levels. 

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

There are also medicines that can help control blood fat levels. The most common medicines used to reduce cholesterol levels are called statins. Fibrates are a type of medicine used to lower triglycerides. 

Some HIV medicines can interact with medicines that lower blood fat levels. If you have HIV and need medicine to control hyperlipidemia, your health care provider can recommend medicines that are safe to take with your HIV regimen.

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

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