Side Effects of HIV Medicines

HIV and Lipodystrophy

Last Reviewed: August 19, 2021

Key Points

  • Lipodystrophy refers to the changes in body fat that can affect some people with HIV.
  • Lipodystrophy can include buildup of body fat, loss of body fat, or both.
  • Lipodystrophy may be due to HIV infection or medicines used to treat HIV, but its actual cause is not understood. Newer HIV medicines are less likely to cause lipodystrophy than HIV medicines developed in the past.
  • Lipodystrophy is not a concern for most people who start HIV treatment now, because newer HIV medicines are less likely to cause lipodystrophy.

What is lipodystrophy?

Lipodystrophy refers to the changes in body fat that can affect some people with HIV. Lipodystrophy can include buildup of body fat, loss of body fat, or both.

Fat buildup (also called lipohypertrophy) can occur:

  • Around the organs in the abdomen
  • On the back of the neck between the shoulders (called a buffalo hump)
  • In the breasts

Fat loss (also called lipoatrophy) tends to occur:

  • In the arms and legs
  • In the buttocks
  • In the face

What causes lipodystrophy?

Lipodystrophy may be due to HIV infection or medicines used to treat HIV, but its actual cause is not understood. Newer HIV medicines are less likely to cause lipodystrophy than HIV medicines developed in the past.

Lipodystrophy is not a concern for most people who start HIV treatment now, because newer HIV medicines are less likely to cause lipodystrophy.

How is lipodystrophy treated?

If you have lipodystrophy, talk to your health care provider about treatment options. Your health care provider may recommend that you switch to another HIV medicine.

There are ways to manage lipodystrophy. Making dietary changes and getting regular exercise may help to build muscle and reduce abdominal fat.

Liposuction (surgical removal of fat) and injectable facial fillers are sometimes used to treat lipodystrophy. There are also medicines that may help lessen the effects of lipodystrophy.

This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

From the Department of Health and Human Services:

From the Department of Veterans Affairs:

From the Health Resources and Services Administration:

Also see the HIV Source E-book for a collection of HIV links and resources.