Excess visceral abdominal fat is not like regular fat

Generally, when people gain weight in the abdomen/belly area, they accumulate a layer of regular fat, also called subcutaneous fat, which is soft, doughy fat that sits just beneath the skin.

Unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat feels hard to the touch and is difficult to pinch. It builds up deeper inside the body, particularly around the organs in the abdomen/belly area, leading to excess visceral abdominal fat.

Excess visceral abdominal fat is not regular fat, and recognizing the symptoms is the first step to managing the condition.

Stock photography. Posed by model.

The belly fat build-up: it's all about the location

Visceral fat and subcutaneous fat are not the same. Click to explore the differences!

What causes excess visceral abdominal fat in people with HIV?

Excess visceral abdominal fat in people with HIV is a complex health condition that can develop due to several reasons:

HIV Infection

The HIV virus can alter the body’s metabolism and affect the way your body stores and breaks down fat. It can also trigger chronic inflammation, prompting the body to make more fat cells.

Anti-retroviral Therapy

Some anti-retroviral therapy (ART) regimens may contribute to the accumulation of excess visceral abdominal fat.

Not all therapies lead to excess visceral abdominal fat, so it is crucial that you continue taking your treatment exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider. If you ever notice unusual changes in your body, talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and concerns.

Changes in hormone levels

Many people with HIV may experience hormonal shifts. For example, low growth hormone levels can lead to the build-up of visceral abdominal fat.

Who is at risk?

Many people with HIV have excess visceral abdominal fat—several studies found that over 40% of HIV+ people may have it.1,2

There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing excess visceral abdominal fat:


The risk of excess visceral abdominal fat build-up increases with age.

Sex assigned at birth

Females are more likely to develop excess visceral abdominal fat than males.

Body mass index (BMI)

Individuals who carry extra weight (BMI>25 kg/m2) are more likely to have excess visceral abdominal fat.

Are you at risk of developing excess visceral abdominal fat? Take a survey to find out!

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  1. Jacobson DL, et al. Prevalence of, evolution of, and risk factors for fat atrophy and fat deposition in a cohort of HIV-infected men and women. Clin Infect Dis. 2005;40(12):1837-1845.

  2. Schuelter-Trevisol, F, et al. Lipohypertrophy and Nutritional Profile Among People Living With HIV in Southern Brazil. Brazilian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 2022;34.

Excess visceral abdominal fat can lead to serious health issues or worsen existing chronic health concerns. If left untreated, excess visceral abdominal fat can have a long-lasting impact on your physical and mental well-being.