When does HIV weight loss begin? The truth: it doesn’t.


A positive diagnosis comes with all sorts of uncertainty and anxiety. It's a private and personal matter. You might not want anyone in your business, and that's understandable! There's still a lot of misinformation about HIV, and we want to clear up some facts about symptoms you might, or might NOT, experience.

At this point, it’s normal for your mind to race a little, thinking about all the changes happening inside your body. It's also normal to think about any physical effects that you might experience. Keep reading to find out more about some facts about HIV and weight loss. 🤓📖

The Myth: HIV and Weigh Loss

Years ago, when HIV showed up, doctors and scientists didn't understand much about it. Back then, they considered "wasting"-- severe weight loss-- a symptom of HIV infection. We have since learned more and know wasting is something that really only happens when someone has the most advanced stage of HIV infection, AIDS. Luckily, today's treatments work very well and prevent HIV from turning into AIDS for those who start treatment early – which also prevents risk of wasting / weight loss to those extremes. Hooray! 🎉

So, when does this HIV weight loss begin? It doesn't, really. Major weight loss is more likely to occur in those with untreated or severe disease. While your weight might change a little bit, there are many reasons why this might happen.

Here are a couple reasons why you might still experience some weight loss:

  • HIV drugs and drugs you may take for other conditions: The medicine you take might dull your appetite. Some medicines might make you feel nauseous (especially when you first start them), and this symptom can be exacerbated by different drug interactions. If any of this is happening, talk to your doctor! 👩‍⚕️ There are effective ways to treat nausea and vomiting, and they can help you feel better.
  • Opportunistic Infections: When living with HIV, your immune system is compromised-- potentially leading to weight loss and certain infections. However, this is far less common because of effective HIV treatment. 💪🏾
  • Living with HIV: Learning to live with HIV can be a stressful experience, right? You might struggle with your mental health or simply feel exhausted. Difficulties-- physical AND mental-- can cause weight loss. Luckily, there are ways to work through these parts of living with HIV. Support networks can guide you through tough times. 🫂

The other side of the coin: weight gain

It’s actually more common for people with HIV to experience weight gain. Still, on average, people only gain roughly four pounds 😲 during the first few years of their treatment. The weird thing is, no one knows for sure why this happens.

HIV causes your body to constantly burn calories to fight infections. ART helps to stop those infections from showing up in the first place. When HIV is under control, those opportunistic infections don’t usually happen. Taking ART also helps you keep your appetite up and absorb more nutrients from food. That can make it easy for someone to put on a few pounds.

Could this be an issue? Maybe. People in the United States are more likely to be overweight when diagnosed with HIV. So, additional weight can lead to diabetes, heart disease, or other health challenges.

Still, none of this should stop you from taking your medicine! There are ways to manage potential weight gain from ART. And, for more on gaining weight and its connection with HIV, we went in-depth here.

Maintaining a healthy weight

Whether you are losing or gaining weight, remember that your medication is essential. To stay healthy, it’s super important that you take it. If you feel you are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight due to your medication, talk to your doctor. There are different types of medicine, so potentially, you could switch to something that works a little better with your body. It might be that simple. 💖

Focus on nutrition and exercise

You will also want to focus on the everyday challenges of life in our hectic, fast-paced society: nutrition and exercise. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is good for your body and your mental health. 🚵‍♀️

A healthy diet and regular physical activity help maintain weight, while providing the energy we need to keep our immune system healthy. You’re not alone in this; your doctor or a dietician can help you figure out the best way to approach lifestyle changes. If you need help getting started, here’s our blog post on good nutrition.🥙

Still have questions? Check out our blog! We cover a wide variety of topics, like whether HIV can cause hair loss, and there are some great tips on where you can find further resources and support.



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