any drugs, HIV treatment can cause side-effects. It is important to always talk
to your doctor or nurse and let them know whenever you experience any new
symptoms that may be due to side-effects, as they may be able to help you deal
often, side-effects occur soon after a drug is started and lessen over time.
Common side-effects include nausea, diarrhoea, headaches and feeling tired.
Your healthcare team should talk to you about what side-effects you can expect
and how to minimise their impact. Some drugs can cause a rash on the skin and
it’s very important that you report rashes to your doctor, in case it is a sign
of an allergic reaction.
find out more about possible side-effects of HIV treatment generally, see the NAM booklet
Side-effects in this series. Because of possible side-effects, women
prescribed certain drugs may need closer clinical and laboratory monitoring in
order to avoid potential problems. If you are concerned about any aspect of
your treatment, always talk to your doctor, pharmacist, support worker or
treatment advocate about this and they will help you to make the treatment
choices that suit you best. The side-effects listed below, while not common,
are thought to affect women more often than men.
Lipodystrophy: This is where fat accumulates in
certain parts of the body, resulting in visible body shape changes. There may
also be a reduction in fat in other areas of the body, known as lipoatrophy. Some
studies suggest that lipodystrophy may affect women more than men, and that
women are more likely to get unusual fat accumulation in certain parts of the
body such as the breasts without the fat loss that often occurs in men.
changes can be distressing. If this happens, discuss it with your doctor and
talk to other HIV-positive women who have had, and dealt with, similar
in the levels of fat and sugars in the blood are also part of lipodystrophy.
These can result in high blood glucose, high blood pressure and increased
cholesterol and triglycerides. Regular monitoring of these is important as high
levels are often associated with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease
you are taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy, for women undergoing the
menopause), and HIV treatment, ensure that you discuss the risk factors with
your doctor, as HRT can also increase the risk of stroke.
Lactic acidosis: Lactic acidosis is an increased
lactate level in the blood (hyperlactatemia). Lactate, or lactic acid, is a
by-product of processing sugar in the body, especially during exercise, which causes
muscle problems and liver damage. Lactic acidosis is a serious side-effect of
treatment with older drugs from the NRTI class, chiefly d4T, but is very
rare with the medicines from this group most commonly used in the UK, such as
abacavir (Ziagen), FTC
(emtricitabine, Emtriva), 3TC
(lamivudine, Epivir) and tenofovir (Viread). Women seem to be more at risk
of developing lactic acidosis than men. You can find out more about the
symptoms of lactic acidosis in NAM’s
Side-effects booklet. If you think
you are experiencing any of them, it is important to tell your doctor as soon
Menstrual changes: Menstrual changes, including
irregular, heavy and painful periods, are associated with some protease
inhibitors. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.