Wasting syndrome

Wasting syndrome

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

Wasting syndrome

Alternative Name: Runting syndrome.

There are, essentially, two different types of wasting. The first type reflects periods of rapid weight loss and muscle wasting. This type is most commonly found in people experiencing particular opportunistic infections (OIs), such as MAC (Mycobacterium avium complex), tuberculosis, or Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP). Given the benefits of anti-HIV therapy and prophylaxis, people living with HIV now stand a much better chance of either avoiding or recovering faster from an OI. This is certainly good news in terms of preventing one of the most common types of wasting.

The second type reflects more gradual losses in both weight and muscle. Unlike the first type, which most often applies to people with AIDS, gradual wasting can occur at any time. It can also occur for any number of reasons and may be due to HIV infection itself.

Wasting syndrome occurs in people with HIV. It is often caused by loss of appetite and HIV medication side effects which include vomiting and changes in your tastes. Your body needs more energy to fight HIV, but when you cannot eat your body uses your muscle fat to give your immune system energy. A low testosterone level can also cause wasting in men with HIV.

Risk factors may include:

    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


The main symptoms of wasting syndrome are its defining factors, the loss of weight from muscle and fat deterioration. Secondary symptoms include:

    Diarrhea or vomiting lasting for 30 days or more.

  • Progressive weakness over a 30 day period.

  • A fever lasting for several days.

  • Loss of appetite or anorexia.


Your doctor will likely diagnose you with Wasting Syndrome if you have HIV and have lost more than 10% of your body weight. Wasting is different from normal weight loss. It is harder to get back the weight. There is a common medical procedure that can measure your lean body mass to tell if you are wasting.


Wasting cannot be prevented however there are some things you can do to help. Ask you doctors about starting meal program even if you show no signs of wasting. Vitamins and minerals, appetite stimulants and eating healthy can help prevent HIV wasting syndrome. Men can ask their doctor to check testosterone levels. Raising testosterone levels can help protect men from opportunistic infections and it can also help maintain body weight. In some cases, physical exercise can also help to prevent wasting.

Possible treatment options include:

    Medications that help you eat and help you stop vomiting.

  • Another approach is the use of nutritional supplements like Ensure and Advera. These have been specifically designed to provide easy-to-absorb nutrients. However, they have not been carefully studied and contain a lot of sugar. Nutritional supplements like Juven or whey protein may also help increase weight. Consult with your healthcare provider before using nutritional supplements. Supplements should be used in addition to a balanced diet.

  • Medications to fight infections in your small intestine and stop diarrhea.

  • If you lose too much weight your doctor may recommend a feeding tube (PEG tube). This kind of treatment is for worst wasting.

Exercise Regimen and Training Program: Progressive resistance training (PRT) is a form of exercise using small weights. A recent study found that PRT gave similar results to oxandrolone (an anabolic steroid) in increasing lean body mass. PRT was also more effective than oxandrolone in increasing physical functioning. It is also less expensive.

NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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