Lipodystrophy : What is lipodystrophy?

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What is lipodystrophy?

More than just a tongue-twisting word, the term "lipodystrophy" can be broken down to reveal exactly what it means. "Lipo" refers to fat and "dystrophy" refers to abnormal growth or change. Put it all together in plain English, and what you're left with is exactly what's being seen in a number of people living with HIV: abnormal fat changes. The medical literature also refers to lipodystrophy as the "fat redistribution syndrome."

Here is a review of the fat changes that have been seen in HIV-positive people:

A build up of fat: Some people see the amount of visceral fat—fat deep within the body—around their gut increase significantly. The medical term for this is lipohypertrophy (excessive fat growth). Increased dorsocervical fat pads—a buildup of fat on the back of the neck and shoulders (sometimes called "buffalo hump")—has also been seen, as well as increased fat tissue in the breasts. Some people have also reported round, moveable, flattened lumps of fat under the skin (lipomas).
A loss of fat: Some people see the fat in their legs, arms, buttocks, or face diminish. This can cause veins to protrude in the arms and legs and sunken cheeks in the face. The medical term for this is lipoatrophy (decrease in fat tissue). For a comprehensive lesson on facial lipoatrophy, including possible treatments, check out Changes to Your Face (Facial Lipoatrophy).

Many HIV-positive people taking HIV medications also experience the following problems:

High levels of fats in the blood: Some people have an increased amount of fat, or lipids, in their blood. The two types of lipids that increase are triglycerides and cholesterol. Increased cholesterol levels can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Increased triglycerides can increase the risk of damage to the pancreas (pancreatitis).
High levels of sugar in the blood: Some people have seen the amount of sugar, or glucose, in their blood increase. This may also be associated with an increase in the amount of insulin ? a hormone produced by the pancreas to help control glucose levels ? in the blood. This can lead to diabetes, a potentially dangerous problem that requires medical attention.

Elevated lipid levels and blood sugars are not discussed in detail in this lesson. To learn more about elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels, including what causes them, what they mean, and how best to manage them, check out of lesson called Risks to Your Heart. This lesson focuses mostly on the body-shape changes associated with lipodystrophy.


Last Revised: June 21, 2011

This content is written by the POZ and AIDSmeds editorial team. For more information, please visit our "About Us" page.

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