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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1997 May;82(5):1332-7.

Body composition and endocrine function in women with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome wasting.

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Neuroendocrine Department, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston 02114, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1997 Oct;82(10):3360.


The acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) wasting syndrome is a devastating complication of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection characterized by progressive weight loss and severe inanition. In men, the wasting syndrome is characterized by a disproportionate decrease in lean body mass and relative fat sparing. In contrast, relatively little is known about the gender-specific changes in body composition that characterize AIDS wasting in women. Three groups of women were studied to determine body composition and hormonal changes with respect to stage of wasting [nonwasting (NW; weight >90% ideal body weight; weight loss <10% of preillness maximum; n = 12), early wasting (EW; weight >90% ideal body weight; weight loss >10% of preillness maximum; n = 10), and late wasting (LW; weight <90%; n = 9)] and compared with a control group of 12, healthy, age-matched women. Weight loss averaged 6 +/- 6% (NW), 15 +/- 6% (EW), and 20 +/- 8% (LW) in the three groups. Lean, fat, and muscle masses were determined by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry and urinary creatinine excretion. Subjects were 36 +/- 5 yr of age (mean +/- SD) with a CD4 cell count of 379 +/- 239 cells/mm3. The body mass index was 24.4 +/- 2.6 kg/m2 (NW), 22.2 +/- 1.2 kg/m2 (EW), 18.2 +/- 2.0 kg/m2 (LW), and 24.3 +/- 2.6 kg/m2 (controls; P < 0.01, NW vs. EW; P < 0.0001, NW vs. LW). Lean body mass indexed for height was 15.7 +/- 2.4 kg/m2 (NW), 14.8 +/- 2.0 kg/m2 (EW), and 13.7 +/- 1.2 kg/m2 (LW) and was decreased significantly only in the LW group (P < 0.05 vs. NW). Muscle mass was 96% (NW), 94% (EW), and 78% (LW) of that predicted for height (P < 0.05, NW vs. LW). In contrast, fat mass indexed for height was decreased significantly among patients in both the EW and LW groups [8.7 +/- 1.9 kg/m2 (NW), 6.5 +/- 1.9 kg/m2 (EW), and 3.7 +/- 1.4 kg/m2 (LW); P < 0.05, NW vs. EW; P < 0.001, NW vs. LW). Expressed as a percentage of the value in nonwasting HIV-positive controls (NW), the relative loss of fat was greater than the loss of lean mass with progressive degrees of wasting [EW, 25% vs. 6% (fat vs. lean); LW, 58% vs. 13%]. The prevalence of amenorrhea was 20% among study subjects [17% (NW), 10% (EW), and 38% (LW)]. The percent predicted muscle mass was significantly lower in subjects with amenorrhea (74 +/- 8%) compared to that in eumenorrheic HIV-positive subjects (94 +/- 4%; P < 0.05). Estradiol levels were lower among subjects with amenorrhea (17.6 +/- 21.8 pg/mL) compared to eumenorrheic HIV-positive (48.9 +/- 33.6 pg/mL) and control (68.3 +/- 47.6 pg/mL) subjects and did not correlate with body composition. Mean free testosterone, but not total testosterone, levels were decreased in subjects with EW and LW compared to those in age-matched healthy controls, but not compared with those in NW [0.9 +/- 0.6 ng/dL (NW), 0.7 +/- 0.4 ng/dL (EW), 0.6 +/- 0.3 ng/dL (LW), and 2.0 +/- 2.4 ng/dL (controls); P < 0.05, EW vs. controls and LW vs. controls] and correlated with muscle mass (r = 0.37; P < 0.05). The percentages of women with free testosterone levels below the age-adjusted normal range were 33% (NW), 50% (EW), and 66% (LW). Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate levels were also low in the subjects with LW compared to those in the control group [98 +/- 85 microg/dL (NW), 102 +/- 53 microg/dL (EW), 55 +/- 46 microg/dL (LW), and 132 +/- 68 microg/dL (controls); P < 0.05 LW vs. controls] and were correlated highly with free testosterone levels (r = 0.73; P < 0.00001) and also with muscle mass (r = 0.48; P < 0.01). These data demonstrate that women lose significant lean body and muscle mass in the late stages of wasting. However, in contrast to men, women exhibit a progressive and disproportionate decrease in body fat relative to lean body mass at all stages of wasting, consistent with gender-specific effects in body composition in AIDS wasting. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED).

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