What do HIV, Anxiety and Depression Have in Common?

AIDS may trigger negative emotions

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Managing a disorder can be an emotionally fraught business for those afflicted. It is all-too-easy for the negative thoughts, worry, fear and stress to compromise dealing with the disease.

Those afflicted with HIV often need to keep up with a regimen of medications taken at regular intervals, as well as avoid as much as possible overeating, smoking, drinking in excess, recreational drug use and other potentially health-affecting activities.

With a compromised immune system, what were ordinary illnesses to cope with on their own can now become deadly. This knowledge may reinforce feelings of anxiety and depression.

It is all too easy for the HIV positive patient to start worrying over any symptoms or changed bodily sensation. For instance, the feeling during flu season that sickness is coming could in fact be a very serious problem, which might lead to dwelling on the negative possibilities.

People managing HIV and AIDS must strike a balance between not paying attention to bodily sensations and too much focus on and thinking about symptoms.

"If you are managing HIV, consult with an infectious disease physician. "

Does the experience of being HIV positive increase the risk for mental health problems, serving as a trigger for greater anxiety and depression? Adam Gonzalez, Ph.D and colleagues investigated the main and interactive effects of HIV symptom distress and anxiety sensitivity in relation to symptoms of panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and depression.

They gave 164 adults with HIV/AIDS a series of questionnaires measuring mood, emotion, attitudes, bodily awareness and experience of symptoms .

In their recent paper, Gonzales and his team found that "HIV symptom distress significantly interacted with anxiety sensitivity in regards to symptoms of panic disorder and social anxiety disorder". They define anxiety sensitivity as "the fear of anxiety and arousal-related sensation".

The team found that "higher levels of HIV symptom distress were related to higher levels of panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and depression symptoms".

Overall, Gonzales and his co-researchers suggest the public health community needs to regard measuring anxiety-relevant emotions among those with HIV/AIDS as important, and that there may be clinically important interactions between HIV symptom distress and anxiety sensitivity relative to panic disorder and social anxiety disorder.

For those dealing with HIV, the study would suggest that dwelling too much upon one's experience of HIV symptoms may worsen into a spiral of worry or sadness.

Managing HIV and AIDS requires individuals to be aware of, but not over-monitor bodily sensations and symptoms.  As medicine learns more about the intricate interplay of emotions and physiology, people managing immune disorders can anticipate science providing a clearer understanding of the extent to which HIV symptoms increase risk for anxiety and depression, and why.

The research was reported in AIDS Patient Care and STDs, Volume 26, Number 3, 2012. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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Review Date: 
June 22, 2012
Last Updated:
June 25, 2012