Facial and Buttock Lipoatrophy in HIV Patients

Q: I have been infected with HIV for 31 years, and have seen every one of my former friends and acquaintances succumb to AIDS. For some reason meds have always become available just in time to save my life. For that I am thankful But my life feels hardly worth living with the disfigurement of facial lipoatrophy and pain of buttock lipoatrophy. My face is so gaunt it is horrible and I have not butt at all!

A: One of the very unique effects of anti-viral medications in the management of HIV/AIDS is their effects on fat wasting or lipoatrophy. While much of the body (but not all) is affected by this fat loss, the face and the buttocks are frequent areas of aesthetic concern.

Facial lipoatrophy can be treated by two potential methods. The non-surgical approach is with the use of Sculptra injections. This is an FDA-approved injectable material that is essentially the placement of crystals or ‘seeds’ of a resorbable polymer that promotes collagen formation. It requires a series of injections over time to get a sustained response. The injections are placed in the cheek and submalar areas where the hollowing is the worst. While there is the possibility of a foreign-body reaction or granulomas with its use, good technique can minimize that risk. This injection material is not permanent and must be repeated every year or so once the desired result is obtained. From a surgical standpoint, cheek or submalar implants can be used which is actually my preferred approach. The procedure is simple, is done from incisions inside the mouth, and the volume obtained is permanent. Once can then use Sculptra to further highlight and feather the result out further into the face if desired.

Unlike the face, there is no good solution for the buttocks. Fat injections are not a good idea as there is no fat to harvest in most HIV patients and it will likely be absorbed anyway even if there was. Buttock implants are a possibility but the pain of recovery and the risk of infection may this procedure unappealing.

Dr. Barry Eppley