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HIV and Weight Loss - Topic Overview

Weight loss in people with HIV has many possible causes. If you lose weight fast, it may be because you have another infection along with HIV. This type of illness is called an opportunistic infection.

Gradual weight loss may be due to problems with nutrition. You may lose weight if you can't eat enough food or if your body can't absorb all the nutrients from the food you eat.

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Pain in your mouth, from sores or a yeast infection called thrush, can make it hard to eat.

You may not feel like eating because you are sick to your stomach or food just doesn't appeal to you. HIV itself or HIV medicines can cause you to feel this way.

You may not feel like eating because you are depressed. Depression can make you lose your appetite. If you have lost interest in activities you used to enjoy or have other depression symptoms, tell your doctor.

If you have diarrhea, your body may not be able to absorb all of the nutrition from your food.

If you are a man and you have a low level of the hormone testosterone, your body may not be able to turn your food into muscle tissue.

When you lose weight, you lose muscle, fat, or both. Exercising to build muscle and eating healthy foods are part of treatment. Your doctor also may change your medicines or add new ones.

Marijuana has been shown to stimulate the appetite. Talk to your doctor if you're interested in trying it.

Eating healthy

Eating a healthy, balanced diet with enough protein and calories may help you keep weight on. It also can help your immune system stay strong to fight infection.

Your doctor or a registered dietitian can help you make a plan that works for you.

Here are a few tips:

  • If you are sick to your stomach or don't feel like eating, discuss your medicines with your doctor. It may be possible to change medicines. Do not change medicines on your own. Always discuss changes in medicines with your doctor, and make those decisions together.
  • If you don't feel like eating, eat your favorite foods. Eat smaller meals several times a day instead of a few large ones.
  • Drink high-calorie protein shakes between meals. Try nutritious drinks, such as Ensure. Protein or energy bars are another good way to get extra calories between meals.
  • If you have diarrhea, eat bland foods like rice, bananas, or bread. Avoid high-fiber foods. Milk products can cause diarrhea for some people who react to the sugar or lactose in the milk. If you have this problem, try lactose-free or soy-based products.
  • If you have mouth sores, avoid spicy foods, hot or cold foods, oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits. Stay away from hard or crunchy foods. Use a straw when you drink.
  • If you are sick to your stomach, try drinking peppermint or ginger tea.
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