Of all the side effects that can come with HIV treatment, weight gain may be one you didn’t expect. But a growing number of people with HIV are becoming overweight or obese. If you’re bothered by changes to your body, you may be able to do something about it.
It will help to build a strong partnership with your health care team. That takes clear communication and persistence. Here are some tips for getting what you need at the doctor’s office.
Try to Find the Cause
If you and your doctor can understand why you’re gaining weight, you might be able to find a solution.
- Some antiretroviral drugs that are used to treat HIV affect the way your body stores fat. You may gain weight or notice a change in your body shape. It may help to switch your medication.
- You may need to adjust your diet and lifestyle as your treatment makes you healthier. When your body isn’t fighting infection, you don’t need as many calories.
- It may not have anything to do with the virus. As antiretroviral treatment allows people to live longer with HIV, they run the same risk as everyone else of gaining weight with age. That can also be addressed with lifestyle changes.
You can help by keeping careful track of what’s happening in your body. Weigh yourself and measure your waist size regularly and log the numbers. You may find it helpful to take pictures of yourself to mark how your appearance changes. You should have your blood sugar and cholesterol checked at least every year.
Getting the Care You Need
To manage weight gain related to your HIV treatment, it may be worth seeking out a doctor who really understands the issue. Your primary care doctor may be able to refer you to a specialist. Your town may also have an HIV clinic with treatment experts and a range of other assistance, like mental health, dental, and social services.
It may help you to do some research before you talk to your doctor. Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health are good places to start. They have comprehensive information on their websites, HIV.gov and HIVinfo.NIH.gov.
It’s smart to be skeptical when you’re looking for HIV information online. Before you trust what you read, find out who’s behind the website, and whether they’re simply providing information or trying to sell you something. Look for articles and studies that come from experts and are up to date. And be wary of a site that wants your personal information.
Talking With Your Doctor
You’ll feel more confident working with your doctor if you’re prepared for your appointments and have a plan:
- Make a list of things you want to discuss and questions you have. Your time will be limited, so put them in order of what’s most important to you.
- Bring notes on your health history and treatment, plus a list of all medicines and supplements you take. This is especially important if you don’t always see the same doctor or you’re trying someone new.
- Take notes on what they tell you so you don’t have to rely on your memory later. It may help to bring a friend or family member as a second set of ears.
- Ask follow-up questions if something they tell you isn’t clear. Ask them to repeat it, or say it in a different way.
- Insist they take your weight concerns seriously. It isn’t vanity. Being overweight can impact your overall health and put you at risk for diabetes, liver disease, and heart problems.
Don’t hesitate to get a second opinion if you aren’t comfortable for any reason. Sometimes a particular doctor or other provider just isn’t a good fit.
Where Else to Get Help
Whether or not you see the same doctor on a regular basis, it can also be helpful to talk with other health care professionals.
- Your clinic or medical practice may have nurses, physician assistants, or case managers who can answer many of the same questions your doctor can. And they may be able to spend more time with you.
- A nutritionist can advise you on an eating plan that keeps you healthy and helps your body fight the infection, but doesn’t add extra pounds.
- Your pharmacist can be a great resource, especially if they have a lot of experience with HIV medicines. They’ll know about side effects and drug interactions.
- A poor body image makes you more likely to become depressed. If you’re struggling, ask for a referral to a therapist or psychologist. You may also benefit from joining a support group for people with HIV.
Know Your Rights
Most doctors agree to a certain set of standards for how they treat their patients. It includes things like giving you the information you need to make decisions about your care and respecting your wishes.
Your clinic or hospital may spell out other rights. Ask if there’s a patient advocate who can help you.
There are also nationwide laws to guard your privacy and prevent access to your medical records. Your state may have others. Check with your local health department.
Photo Credit: ADAM GAULT / SPL / Getty Images
Current HIV/AIDS Reports: “Obesity And Weight Gain In Persons With HIV.”
CATIE: “Body Weight and Body Shape Changes.”
European AIDS Treatment Group: “Strategies for managing weight gain in HIV patients.”
Nature: “HIV and antiretroviral therapy-related fat alterations.”
National Institute on Aging: “Online Health Information: Is It Reliable?” “How to Prepare for a Doctor's Appointment.”
HIV.gov: “Seeing Your Health Care Provider,” “Types of Providers,” “Mental Health.”
NIH News in Health: “Talking With Your Doctor.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Don’t Be Shy: 4 Tips for Talking to Your Doctor.”
CDC: “Healthy Living With HIV.”
Womenshealth.gov: “Body Image.”
American Medical Association: “Patient Rights.”
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: “What are my health care rights and responsibilities?”