How does HIV treatment work?

Taking HIV medications on a regular basis lowers the amount of HIV (viral load) in your body and protects your immune system. Lowering your viral load also reduces your risk of transmitting HIV.

As with most medications,

HIV medications can cause side effects.

Side effects are symptoms or problems that may occur when you take a medication. Some common and/or serious side effects can be caused by HIV medications. These include:

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Headache Depression Anxiety

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Stomach problems
Kidney problems
Liver problems Diarrhea

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High blood sugar Weight gain

The DHHS Guidelines and weight gain with HIV medications.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Guidelines for the Use of Antiretrovirals in Adults and Adolescents with HIV recommend that patients and their healthcare providers consider weight gain as a side effect prior to starting treatment.

What is the DHHS?

The U.S. federal government agency responsible for protecting the public's health and providing important services, especially for people in need.

Who creates these guidelines?

These federally approved medical practice guidelines for HIV/AIDS are developed by panels of experts in HIV care.

Relevant weight gain information from the DHHS Guidelines:

  • Some types of HIV medications are associated with greater weight gain than others.
  • The long-term consequences of treatment-related weight gain are still unknown.

Why is weight gain a problem?

In the general population, weight gain has been shown to increase the risk of health issues such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Additional health risks

Trying to maintain a healthy weight is important, whether or not you are living with HIV. Weight gain is a common side effect of HIV treatments. The reasons for weight gain are unclear.

Who is at risk?

People currently living with HIV in the United States are more likely to be overweight or obese than in years past. Several large clinical trials have reported weight gain after starting treatment, and have varying results. Certain medications seem to cause more weight gain than others. The reasons for weight gain with HIV treatment are unclear.

Treatment-related weight gain seems to disproportionately affect:

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Black and Hispanic people, and women living with HIV.

Studies have shown that:

  • Black people were more likely to gain weight after starting treatment than people belonging to other racial groups
  • Women gained more weight than men after starting treatment

Weight gain should be considered when you and your healthcare provider choose an HIV medication. The long-term consequences of treatment-related weight gain are still unknown.

Talk to your doctor icon

Talk to your healthcare provider to learn if you’re at risk for HIV treatment-related weight gain.