Evaluation and management of dyslipidemia in patients with HIV infection

J Gen Intern Med. 2002 Oct;17(10):797-810. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.2002.20201.x.


Objective: Persons with HIV infection develop metabolic abnormalities related to their antiretroviral therapy and HIV infection itself. The objective of this study was to summarize the emerging evidence for the incidence, etiology, health risks, and treatment of dyslipidemias in HIV disease.

Design: Systematic review of original research with quantitative synthesis.

Main results: Dyslipidemia is common in persons with HIV infection on highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), but methodologic differences between studies preclude precise estimates of prevalence and incidence. The typical pattern includes elevated total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides, which may be markedly elevated. The dyslipidemia may be associated with lipodystrophy, insulin resistance, and, rarely, frank diabetes mellitus. Exposure to protease inhibitors (PIs) is associated with this entire range of metabolic abnormalities. PI-naïve patients on nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) may develop lipodystrophy, insulin resistance, hypercholesterolemia, and possibly modest elevations in triglycerides but not severe hypertriglyceridemia, which appears to be linked to PIs alone. Most studies have not found an association between CD4 lymphocyte count or HIV viral load and lipid abnormalities. The pathogenesis is incompletely understood and appears to be multifactorial. There are insufficient data to definitively support an increased coronary heart disease risk in patients with HIV-related dyslipidemia. However, some of the same metabolic abnormalities remain firmly established risk factors in other populations. Patients on HAART with severe hypertriglyceridemia may develop pancreatitis or other manifestations of the chylomicronemia syndrome. Some of the metabolic derangements (particularly hypertriglyceridemia) may improve upon replacing a PI with a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor. The limited experience suggests that fibrates, pravastatin, and atorvastatin can safely treat lipid abnormalities in HIV-infected patients.

Conclusions: Patients with HIV infection on HAART should be screened for lipid disorders, given their incidence, potential for morbidity, and possible long-term cardiovascular risk. Treatment decisions are complex and must include assessments of cardiac risk, HIV infection status, reversibility of the dyslipidemia, and the effectiveness and toxicities of lipid-lowering medications. The multiple potential drug interactions with antiretroviral or other HIV-related medications should be considered in lipid-lowering drug selection and monitoring.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active
  • HIV Infections / complications*
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipidemias / diagnosis*
  • Hyperlipidemias / etiology
  • Hyperlipidemias / therapy*
  • Hypolipidemic Agents / therapeutic use


  • Hypolipidemic Agents