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AIDS Wasting Syndrome

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AIDS wasting syndrome occurs when you have AIDS and lose at least 10% of your body weight -- especially muscle. You may also have at least 30 days of diarrhea or extreme weakness and fever that's not related to an infection. Not a specific disease, AIDS wasting syndrome is a poorly understood condition of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). It is less frequent than in the past, thanks to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) medications, called HAART. But it is still a significant threat. It increases the risk for opportunistic infections, dementia, and death. Even a weight loss of 5% can increase these risks. However, you can take several steps to reduce your risks.

What Causes AIDS Wasting Syndrome?

The No. 1 cause of AIDS wasting syndrome is not taking HAART medications. If you have AIDS, the following factors can work together to promote weight loss and wasting syndrome:

Not eating enough. It may be difficult to get adequate nutrition for reasons such as these:

  • Poor appetite from HIV infection
  • Medication side effects, such as nausea, changes in taste, or mouth tingling
  • Opportunistic infection symptoms, such as a painful throat or sense of fullness
  • Lack of money or energy to shop for and prepare meals
  • Depression

Not absorbing nutrients well. This may happen because:

  • HIV directly affects the intestinal lining.
  • Opportunistic infections interfere with absorption.
  • Medications cause diarrhea, which leads to loss of calories and nutrients.

Changes in metabolism. This can occur for many reasons.

  • HIV disease burns calories fast, so you need more calories to maintain your body weight. This need for extra calories may be caused by the increased activity of the immune system. Or it may be because HIV changes levels of hormones that affect how fast you burn calories.
  • People with HIV have high levels of proteins called cytokines. These make your body produce more fats and sugars, but fewer proteins.

 

Diagnosing AIDS Wasting Syndrome

To diagnose AIDS wasting syndrome, your doctor will take a history, asking questions, for example, about your diet, the medications you're taking, and whether you've been depressed.

In addition, you may need a body composition test to evaluate the makeup of tissues in your body. You should have this done in a center experienced with AIDS wasting syndrome. Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) is an example of this kind of test. It measures lean body mass. While you're lying down, someone applies electrodes to your body. Resistance to a painless electrical signal is measured as it travels through your body's muscle and fat.

You may also have tests to identify problems with nutrient absorption.

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