HIV and Healthy Relationships

Intimate partner violence linked to worse outcomes for HIV

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It's easy to pay attention to your physical health if you're in a healthy relationship. If you're in a bad relationship, your health can be affected – especially with a chronic illness like HIV.

Many HIV positive patients find themselves in intimate relationships in which they are threatened or abused.

A recent study found that these patients were frequent no-shows at HIV clinic appointments, and their HIV was not under control.

"If you're in an abusive relationship, get help."

Published in the journal AIDS Patient Care and STDs, a team of researchers recruited HIV patients from a public clinic in Charlottesville, Virginia. They took information about intimate partner violence and clinical factors.

Intimate partner violence is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse.” It can occur in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships.

Of 251 participants, 83 people (33 percent) reported experiencing intimate partner violence. When the researchers analyzed the results, they found that there was an association between intimate partner violence and a CD4 cell count that fell under 200, as well as a detectable viral load.

Doctors use CD4 cell counts – a type of white blood cell – to measure HIV in a person's body. If you have a count under 200 CD4 cells in a cubic millimeter of blood, it means that there's significant damage to your immune system, and you're at risk of developing AIDS or another opportunistic infection.

The results also showed that people who experienced intimate partner violence tended to have a higher no-show rate, meaning they missed appointments at the HIV clinic.

Combined with their higher risk of AIDS and other infections, they're likely to have worse overall outcomes for HIV.

It's been well established through research that for people with HIV, traumatic experiences are associated with a higher rate of death, more opportunistic infections, progression to AIDS and not sticking to treatments.

However, this study is the first to examine the relationship between intimate partner violence and HIV. Despite the relatively small sample size, it shows that the impact may be very similar.

HIV and intimate partner violence intersect in many dangerous ways. When women or men are in an abusive relationship, risk of HIV transmission is higher because they may be afraid to ask to use a condom.

It is also more difficult to disclose HIV status without fear of further abuse, and violence and fear may prevent an HIV-positive individual from getting access to health care.

The Well Project, which provides health information for women with HIV and AIDS, advises women who feel threatened to call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 800-799-SAFE.

The study on intimate partner violence and HIV was published in June 2012.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 20, 2012
Last Updated:
November 13, 2012