Balancing disfigurement and fear of disease progression: Patient perceptions of HIV body fat redistribution

Nancy R. Reynolds, J. L. Neidig, A. W. Wu, A. L. Gifford, W. C. Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


This study was conducted to identify and describe the perceived morphologic changes of body fat redistribution and related distress among persons taking combination antiretroviral therapy. Six focus group interviews were conducted in four different US cities with men and women (n=58) who reported antiretroviral-related symptoms of body fat loss and/or gain. Interview data were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim and systematically analysed using inductive techniques. Physical discomfort and impairment and psychological and social distress were reported across sex, sexual orientation and geographic subgroups. While participants acknowledged that antiretroviral drugs were keeping them alive, there was tension between the desire for life-sustaining treatment and optimal quality of life. Some participants engaged in harmful health behaviours in an attempt to control bodily changes (e.g. non-adherence to antiretroviral regimen). Participants feared that fat loss represented disease progression and worried that visible changes would lead to unintentional disclosure of their HIV status. Although a potential source of support, healthcare providers were commonly perceived as ignoring and, in so doing, discrediting patient distress. Participants recognised the limitations of current lipodystrophy treatment options, yet a cure for the syndrome seemed less important to them in the short term than simply being listened to and the powerful, but oblique sources of distress addressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)663-673
Number of pages11
JournalAIDS Care - Psychological and Socio-Medical Aspects of AIDS/HIV
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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