Pain is common not only in those suffering the last stages of AIDS but also in HIV-positive people who are still active.
June is Pride Month. While PainResource.com celebrates the fact that having HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) no longer inevitably leads to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), we also recognize that HIV/AIDS can be painful.
And it’s not only among people suffering the last stages of AIDS but also the HIV-infected who are still active and healthy. Uncontrolled pain has been recognized as a contributing factor to suicide in AIDS patients.
According to a study from Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, pain is the second-most prevalent symptom in HIV/AIDS (fever is No. 1), and it increases in severity with advancing disease.
The most common pain syndromes are abdominal, throat, and back pain; peripheral neuropathy, which damages the nerves in the feet and lower legs, and occasionally the hands; and headache. The causes are varied. Short-term pain can be a result of infection or surgery. Chronic pain can also be brought on by infections, as well as cancers, gut problems, and nerve damage, including peripheral neuropathy.
HIV treatments (generally a combination of drugs referred to as the cocktail) can also have side effects that include fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and insomnia.
If you know what to expect before you begin HIV therapy, you can develop a plan for coping. Tips for dealing with the side effects can include:
- Fatigue: Try taking naps, cutting back your work schedule, eating balanced meals, and doing gentle exercises like stretching.
- Nausea and vomiting: Eat some crackers in the morning or try ginger (in ginger ale, ginger tea, or gingersnaps). Eating small meals may also help.
- Diarrhea: Make sure to get plenty of fluids and stay hydrated. Talk to your doctor about safe over-the-counter anti-diarrhea products.
- Headaches: Stay rested, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid loud noise and bright light.
- Insomnia: Health coach Angela Gaffney advises limiting caffeine and heavy meals close to bedtime. (Try to eat dinner three hours before going to sleep.) Enjoy relaxing bedtime rituals such as a warm bath with lavender salts, soothing music or sounds such as ocean waves or rain, or a massage.
- Pain or peripheral nerve problems. Wear loose-fitting shoes, soak your feet in ice water, and try ibuprofen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories.
In addition, people with pain due to HIV/AIDS might also find relief with alternative therapies, which can strengthen the immune system and remedy the side effects of medications.
Alternative medicine involves a range of healing approaches, and many are holistic, meaning they connect the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. HIV/AIDS alternative treatments can include:
- Yoga and meditation, which helps to quiet the mind and involves deep breathing for relaxation.
- Visualization, a form of self-hypnosis that can be used to foster healing. (Learn how Kent St. John used the power of photos to cope with his cancer pain.)
- Humor and inspirational audiotapes can take the mind off pain and can help sufferers establish life-coping skills.
- Massage therapy, which involves manipulation of body tissues and muscles to reduce pain and improve blood flow.
- Acupuncture, which increases energy, reduces fatigue and decreases nerve pain. (Read our story on if acupuncture is effective in treating pain).
- Biofield therapies such as reiki and qigong, which improves energy flow, and bioelectromagnetic therapies, which use magnetic or pulsed fields to rebalance energy.
Tell us: Do you live with HIV pain? Share your story, including any tips for relief, with our community.