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HIV wasting syndrome

for Veterans and the Public

HIV wasting syndrome

Wasting syndrome refers to unwanted weight loss of more than 10 percent of a person's body weight, with either diarrhea or weakness and fever that have lasted at least 30 days. For a 150-pound man, this means a weight loss of 15 pounds or more. Weight loss can result in loss of both fat and muscle. Once lost, the weight is difficult to regain.

The condition may occur in people with advanced HIV disease, and can be caused by many things: HIV, inflammation, or opportunistic infections. The person may get full easily or have no appetite at all.

The most important treatment for wasting syndrome is effective treatment of HIV with antiretroviral medications. In addition, the condition may be controlled, to some degree, by eating a good diet. A "good diet" for a person with HIV may not be the low-fat, low-calorie diet recommended for healthy people. Compared with other people, you may need to take in more calories and protein to keep from losing muscle mass. To do this, you can add to your meals:

  • peanut butter
  • legumes (dried beans and peas)
  • cheeses
  • eggs
  • instant breakfast drinks
  • milkshakes
  • sauces

You can also maintain or increase muscle mass through exercise, especially with progressive strength-building exercises. These include resistance and weight-lifting exercise. (For more diet and exercise tips, see the Living with HIV section.)