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By: RSC Editorial Team

May 4, 2023

When Does HIV Weight Loss Begin and What Can You Do About It?

Discovering that you have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can be scary, especially as you learn about possible side effects and symptoms. Many patients continue to wrestle with unanswered questions about HIV infection and how to enjoy the highest possible quality of life while living with this condition — questions like “When does HIV weight loss begin?” and “What can I do to manage it?” 

At Rapid STD Testing, we’re here to help you find answers and monitor your sexual health with same-day STD testing. In this article, we share what you need to know about HIV infection, its symptoms, and how you can manage them.  

Stages of HIV Infection

HIV infection affects the everyday lives of millions of people throughout the world. It can spread from person to person through unprotected vaginal or anal sex, unsterilized medical equipment, and reused syringes or needles. Without proper treatment, the infection will worsen and eventually take over the body’s immune system.

This progression doesn’t happen overnight — it can take months, years, and even decades. HIV infection occurs in three main stages:

  • Acute HIV Infection: During this initial stage of HIV infection, you have a lot of the virus in your bloodstream and are more likely to transmit it to others. Acute HIV infection comes with a wide variety of symptoms, including headaches, achiness, throat and skin irritation, fever, and fatigue, that may appear after three months. 
  • Chronic HIV Infection: If your body cannot fight off the HIV infection, the acute stage develops into an asymptomatic phase known as chronic HIV infection. Although you may no longer notice flu-like symptoms after six months, the virus continues to attack your immune system and lower your CD4 cell count.
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome: HIV infection becomes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) when it reaches the third stage of development. During this phase, your immune system is so weak that you are at risk of developing conditions like skin cancer and heart disease, and even a minor illness could be life-threatening.

There is currently no cure for HIV. However, taking a rapid STD test from Rapid STD Testing can help you detect HIV early and know when to get help from a health care provider. You can also stop or slow the infection’s progression with treatments like antiretroviral therapy (ART).

When does HIV weight loss begin? You may notice inexplicable and unwanted weight loss related to HIV during the third stage of infection. Despite eating healthy foods and exercising, AIDS can hijack your body’s systems and result in a loss of body weight.

AIDS

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, is the most advanced phase of HIV infection. People with AIDS have a damaged immune system that cannot prevent other infections and illnesses or keep them from worsening. Without medication, these patients only live for about three more years.

HIV’s flu-like symptoms typically go away after the acute stage, and many patients live symptom-free for decades in the chronic stage with the right treatment plan. However, the advanced stage often comes with symptoms like the following:

  • Ongoing fatigue and tiredness
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Long-lasting fever
  • Involuntary weight loss
  • Intractable diarrhea
  • Unusual bleeding and bruising
  • Shortness of breath
  • Oral or vaginal yeast infections
  • Memory loss and confusion

Contracting HIV might be frightening, but it’s not hopeless. You can still live a long, happy life by taking HIV medications and following your doctor’s recommendations.

HIV Wasting Syndrome

While there is such a thing as dormant HIV, this infection typically continues to progress if you don’t take active steps to treat it. An untreated HIV infection may eventually develop into HIV wasting syndrome.

HIV wasting syndrome refers to the body losing over 10% of its baseline weight during stage three of infection. AIDS affects your immune system and can cause all kinds of health problems, including weight loss. You may experience loss of lean body mass and fat, frequent or ongoing illnesses, and other symptoms that make you feel like you’re wasting away.

Losing weight might not sound like a big deal — after all, it’s a common goal for many Americans. However, weight loss in patients with AIDS is a source of significant concern and something medical professionals do not take lightly. The risk of death for people with HIV increases each time they lose 1% of their body’s usual weight.

The good news is there are several ways to support fat accumulation and promote weight gain. Eating snacks throughout the day and having plenty of food on hand can help you stay healthy when you’re feeling well and not suffer when you’re feeling sick. Doctors may also recommend taking anabolic steroids to enhance muscle growth.

Causes of HIV Wasting Syndrome

First of all, it’s worth noting that HIV in itself does not cause weight loss. HIV/AIDS infection and medication can alter how your body creates and regulates muscle and fat production, but it does not necessarily cause you to lose weight.

So how does HIV cause weight loss? Here are a few reasons why patients living with HIV may experience weight loss:  

  • Opportunistic infections: If you have HIV/AIDS, you risk contracting other infections more frequently, more easily, and to a more severe level. These so-called opportunistic infections take advantage of your weakened immune system and can contribute to HIV wasting syndrome.
  • Inadequate food intake: Patients with HIV/AIDS often experience a loss of appetite, a lack of energy, and ulcers in the mouth or throat. This leads to eating less and not giving the body enough nutrition to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes may also be an independent predictor of weight loss during the third stage of HIV infection. AIDS may indirectly cause you to lose weight by disrupting human growth hormones, testosterone levels, and thyroid hormones.
  • Altered metabolism: How your body digests food and metabolizes nutrients plays a major role in weight loss and weight gain. As HIV/AIDS attacks the rest of your body, it also attacks this process and may lead to metabolism alterations.
  • Loss of nutrients: HIV infection may come with symptoms like excessive diarrhea and vomiting. Diarrhea and vomiting cause you to lose valuable nutrients before your body can absorb and metabolize them.

Is weight gain a sign of HIV, and when does HIV weight loss begin? Weight loss is a common complication of HIV infection. It may occur for various reasons during the advanced stage of infection. 

Fighting Weight Loss and HIV Weight Loss Symptoms

Weight loss and other common HIV symptoms might leave you confused, afraid, and searching for answers. Don’t worry, though — you’re not alone. We at Rapid STD Testing know many patients who have successfully fought HIV-related weight loss.

Here are some things you can do to combat HIV weight loss symptoms:

  • Increase caloric intake: Losing weight may come from not eating enough, but it may also come from not eating the right type of food. Talk to a trusted physician or dietician about your diet to see if increasing calories would be beneficial.
  • Prepare smaller meals more often: Eating more to gain weight doesn’t necessarily mean gorging yourself at every mealtime. More often than not, the best approach is to eat snacks and smaller meals throughout the day. 
  • Eat foods that agree with you: Finding foods that taste good, go down smoothly, and sit well in your stomach can be a challenge when you’re living with HIV/AIDS. To avoid losing too much weight, consider making a list of the healthier foods you love and adding more of those to your diet.
  • Exercise regularly: Workouts and regular exercise are a good idea for anyone who wants to stay healthy, including people with HIV. Not only does exercising help you build muscle, but it can also increase your appetite to prevent weight loss.
  • Reduce diarrhea: The weaker your immune system becomes, the more likely you are to get infections that lead to diarrhea and unwanted weight loss. However, you can minimize this issue by eating milder foods, increasing fiber intake, and drinking more water.
  • Take medication for nausea and vomiting: If nausea and vomiting are the underlying cause of your sudden weight loss, addressing those issues could help your body get back on track. There are many prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications you can take to reduce vomiting and find relief from nausea.
  • Use appetite stimulants: Using stimulants to boost your appetite should not be the go-to option for weight gain, but it may help if you’re losing weight due to loss of appetite. Megestrol acetate therapy or medications like dronabinol could be the solution to force yourself to eat more. 
  • Get hormonal treatments: The hormonal changes you may experience during the final stage of HIV infection can cause you to lose weight. If that’s the case, discussing hormone treatments with your doctor might be your best option.
  • Ask other people to help: You don’t have to face HIV-related weight loss by yourself. Family and friends can help you stay healthy by preparing meals, exercising with you, and encouraging you in the fight against HIV.

Managing HIV Wasting Syndrome

If you’re wondering, “When does HIV weight loss begin?” you may also wonder, “How do I manage HIV-related weight loss?” People with HIV/AIDS may lose weight for any number of reasons, including emotional, financial, and physical factors. Understanding the root cause can help you determine the most effective solution.

There is no quick, permanent fix to HIV wasting syndrome. Unfortunately, living with HIV/AIDS is an ongoing battle that will continue to take a toll on your body. However, you can do a few things to help manage symptoms:

  • Switching up your medications: Your unexplained weight loss could be the result of conflicting medications or adverse side effects to certain dosages. Consult your doctor about this, and see if changing your medications would help.
  • Transferring fat surgically: Another option for managing HIV wasting syndrome is to transfer fat via surgery. While moving fat from one part of your body to another cannot increase your weight, it can help you look and feel healthier.
  • Getting injectable facial fillers: Injectable facial fillers are a cosmetic procedure that helps rejuvenate your skin and reduce wrinkles, sunken cheeks, and other signs of weight loss. Although this procedure doesn’t treat the underlying cause, it can improve your appearance and help you stay optimistic.

HIV and AIDS don’t just affect your physical well-being — these conditions and their symptoms may cause significant damage to your mental health. Buying medications and paying for treatment can leave you in financial hardship and lead to a lot of anxiety and stress. It’s also easy for depression to set in as you try to navigate life and think about the future.

You’ve heard it before, and it’s worth saying again: you are not alone. A trained therapist can help you stay on top of your mental health, friends and family can keep you motivated, and organizations like Rapid STD Testing can provide the answers you need to face the future with confidence. Our staff has plenty of resources and a wealth of knowledge to guide you through this challenging time.

Stay Proact-HIV With the Help of Rapid STD Testing

At Rapid STD Testing, we know you probably have a lot of questions about your sexual health and viral infections like HIV. That’s why you’re here. You want to know “When does HIV weight loss begin?” and “What can I do about it?”

Weight loss is a common problem for HIV patients, and you can take several steps to manage it. But first, you should take a 10-panel STD test from Rapid STD Testing to verify your condition and know what to do next. We have testing locations throughout the United States — go online to find one near you!  

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By: RSC Editorial Team
May 4, 2023

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