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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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HIV and Your Diet: Countering Weight Loss

WebMD Feature

Most people with HIV don't need a special diet. But if you're feeling sick and having symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, or weight loss, you may need some changes to what and how you eat.

Losing too much weight can be serious. Without good nutrition, you may get sicker.

Recommended Related to HIV/AIDS

The Difference Between HIV and AIDS

HIV is the virus that can become AIDS. AIDS is defined as the most advanced stage of the virus, where the immune system has become so damaged that you're vulnerable to infection and cancers that come from infections. Those are called opportunistic illnesses, because they take advantage of your weakened immune system. They are often fatal.

Read the The Difference Between HIV and AIDS article > >

"Good nutrition is very important for people with HIV," says Brad Hare, MD, director of the HIV/AIDS clinic at San Francisco General Hospital. Without a healthy diet, your body will have a harder time recovering and fighting off infections.

When HIV Makes You Lose Weight

Unwanted weight loss related to HIV is less common than it once was, but it still happens. HIV itself -- as well as related problems and treatments -- can cause it. It's more common in people with untreated or severe disease, an infection, or a high viral load, which is a high concentration of the virus in the blood.

When you have HIV, things that can cause you to lose weight include:

  1. The HIV virus itself.
  2. HIV drugs, which dull your appetite, make food taste bad, or make it harder for your body to absorb nutrients.
  3. Symptoms like nausea and mouth sores can make eating unpleasant.
  4. Diarrhea and other digestive problems can make it harder to take in nutrients from foods.
  5. Exhaustion can slow you down, keep you from grocery shopping, and limit your ability to prepare healthy meals.
  6. If you have advanced disease, high levels of HIV virus in your blood, or other infections, you may need more calories.

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