Pharmacologic management of human immunodeficiency virus wasting syndrome


Pharmacologic interventions for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) wasting have been studied since the 1990s, but the results of these interventions have been difficult to compare because the studies used different HIV wasting definitions and assessed various patient outcomes. Thus, we performed a systematic review of the current literature to identify studies that evaluated pharmacologic management of HIV wasting and to compare and contrast treatment options. Further, we provide a comprehensive review of these treatment options and describe the definition of HIV wasting used in each study, the outcomes assessed, and whether antiretroviral therapy was used during the HIV wasting treatment. Literature searches of the PubMed/Medline (1946-2014) and Google Scholar databases were performed, and a review of the bibliographies of retrieved articles was performed to identify additional references. Only English-language articles pertaining to humans and HIV-infected individuals were evaluated. Thirty-six studies were identified that assessed pharmacologic interventions to treat HIV wasting. Appetite stimulants, such as megestrol acetate, have been shown to increase total body weight (TBW) and body mass index in HIV-infected patients with wasting. Studies evaluating dronabinol showed conflicting data on TBW increases, but the drug may have minimal benefit on body composition compared with other appetite stimulants. Testosterone has been shown to be effective in HIV wasting for those who suffer from hypogonadism. Recombinant human growth hormone has been evaluated for HIV wasting and has shown promising results for TBW and lean body mass increases. Thalidomide has been studied; however, its use is limited due to its toxicities. Although megestrol acetate and dronabinol are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of HIV wasting, it is important to recognize other comorbidities such as depression or hypogonadism that may contribute to the patient’s appetite and weight loss. If a patient is diagnosed with hypogonadism and HIV wasting, testosterone would be a good therapeutic option. Although mirtazapine is not FDA approved for the management of HIV wasting, it has been shown to promote weight gain while treating depression symptoms. Mirtazapine may be a promising pharmacologic option in the management of HIV wasting and depression, but further research is needed.


Badowski M, Pandit NS.




  • Population(s)
    • General HIV+ population
  • Prevention
    • Biomedical interventions
  • Mental Health
    • Depression


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