HIV-Infection in Women Over 50
Information about HIV-infected women over the age of 50 and their treatment is limited because few studies have targeted this gender and age group. However, some generalizations have been observed in clinical studies, including the following:
- Before the use of HAART, older age was a predictor for an increased rate of disease progression to AIDS and death [1,2]. The age factor can be mitigated by appropriate treatment with HAART [3,4].
- HIV-related symptoms and side effects of HIV-related medications may be difficult to distinguish from common age-related comorbidities, such as anemia, wasting, dyspnea on exertion, rheumatologic disorders , dementia, osteoporosis, lipid abnormalities, and insulin resistance.
- Because of the increased incidence of malignancy in HIV-infected adults  and the increased incidence and association of some malignancies with aging, clinicians need to be vigilant for vulvar and cervical neoplasia (see Anogenital Neoplasia) and ovarian, breast, and uterine cancer in older women.
This chapter discusses prevalence and identification of HIV in women over the age of 50, primary health care for HIV-infected older women, the implications of initiating HAART and/or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and the psychosocial issues that may affect older women living with HIV infection. The medical care for HIV-infected menopausal women and women over the age of 50 also includes the same elements of routine medical care that are appropriate for HIV-infected persons in general.
- Phillips AN, Lee CA, Elford J, et al. More rapid progression to AIDS in older HIV-infected people: The role of CD4+ T-cell counts. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 1991;4:970-975.
- Adler WH, Baskar PV, Chrest FJ, et al. HIV infection and aging: Mechanisms to explain the accelerated rate of progression in the older patient. Mech Ageing Dev 1997;96:137-155.
- Cuzin L, Delpierre C, Gerard S, et al. Immunological and clinical responses to highly active antiretroviral therapy in patients with HIV infection aged > 50 years. Clin Infect Dis 2007;45:654-657.
- Casau NC. Perspective on HIV infection and aging: emerging research on the horizon. Clin Infect Dis 2005;41:855-863.
- Casado E, Olive A, Holgado S, et al. Musculoskeletal manifestations in patients positive for human immunodeficiency virus: Correlation with CD4 count. J Rheumatol 2001;28:802-804.
- Gallagher B, Wang Z, Schymura M, et al. Cancer incidence in New York State Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome Patients. Amer J Epi 2001;154:544-556.
Identification and Prevention of HIV Infection
The number of older women with HIV infection is expected to increase for two reasons: 1) the rate and incidence of new infections in this age group are increasing , and 2) women already in care for HIV infection are expected to live longer due to improved ARV therapy and other treatment advances.
Women of all ages who are sexually active should receive risk-reduction counseling and education to prevent HIV transmission . The need to discuss sexual risk behaviors with older women is supported by the following data. In New York State during 2005, women over the age of 50 comprised:
- 267 of 1,289 women with new HIV diagnoses (21%)
- 356 of 1,564 women with new AIDS diagnoses (23%)
- 2,296 of 13,712 women living with HIV (22%)
- 6,057 of 20,600 women living with AIDS (29%)
Healthcare providers may be reluctant to discuss HIV risk behaviors with older women because it is assumed that these women are not sexually active or have conservative behaviors. Many older women do not perceive themselves as being at risk and may be uncomfortable inquiring about HIV infection. Women of all ages should receive risk assessments and risk-reduction counseling to prevent HIV transmission .
Risk-reduction counseling for the prevention of STI and HIV transmission should include use of condoms. Some older women may not want to use condoms because they experience vaginal irritation from dryness due to atrophic vaginitis, which can occur with decreasing hormone levels during menopause. However, condom use may be particularly important for these patients because atrophic vaginitis may increase mucosal viral transmission of HIV .
Older women may present with symptoms of acute retroviral syndrome, which may be dismissed as being associated with other age-related conditions, such as menopause or diabetes. Because the risk for new HIV infection in women over the age of 50 is often underestimated, clinicians need to be vigilant for older women who present in primary care with the acute retroviral syndrome. HIV should be part of the differential diagnosis for flu-like illnesses, and HIV testing should be performed. For recommendations on testing for acute HIV infection and management of patients with acute HIV infection, see Diagnosis and Management of Acute HIV Infection.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. United States HIV&AIDS Statistics by Age. HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report 2001;13(1). Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/library/reports/surveillance/cdc-hiv-surveillance-report-2001-vol-13-1.pdf
- Lieberman R. HIV in older Americans: An epidemiologic perspective. J Midwifery Womens Health 2000;45:176-182. Review.
- Dwyer JM, Penny R, Gatenby PA, et al. Susceptibility of postmenopausal women to infection with HIV during vaginal intercourse. Med J Aust 1990;153:299.
- The North American Menopause Society. The role of local vaginal estrogen for treatment of vaginal atrophy in postmenopausal women: 2007 position statement of The North American Menopause Society. Menopause 2007;14:355-356.
Routine Primary Healthcare
Although many clinicians focus primarily on the complexities of managing HIV disease, general primary care guidelines for older women should also be implemented, including age-specific screening.
Perform at baseline and annually and as indicated for ongoing problems. This examination should include direct visualization of the vulva, vagina, and cervix, and a bimanual pelvic examination that includes a digital rectal examination.
Cervical Pap tests: Perform at baseline and then 6 months after baseline; repeat annually, as long as results are normal
- Abnormal Pap tests results should be repeated every 3 to 6 months until two successive normal Pap tests are reported
- Colposcopy should be performed for women with abnormal Pap tests. Follow-up would then vary on a case-by-case basis. Women with cervical HSIL should be referred for high-resolution anoscopy.
Anal Pap tests: Perform at baseline and annually for women with a history of anogenital condyloma or abnormal cervical/vulvar histology
Post-hysterectomy cervical screening: Perform an annual cervical Pap test when:
- Hysterectomy was performed because of high-grade dysplasia, HPV-related anogenital dysplasia of the cervix, or carcinoma
- A supracervical hysterectomy (uterus removed and cervix left in place) was performed
- The reason for the hysterectomy cannot be determined by patient self-report or other means
- Any cervical tissue remains
- Annual Pap tests are not recommended for HIV-infected women who have undergone a total hysterectomy for reasons not related to cervical abnormalities.
RPR or VDRL for syphilis with verification of positive test by confirmatory FTA-Abs or TP-PA: Perform at baseline and at least annually; every 3 months for patients with ongoing high-risk behavior
Gonorrhea and chlamydia: Perform at baseline and at least annually for women with one of the following: recent STI, multiple sexual partners, a new sexual partner, or a sexual partner with symptoms of an STI.
All sites of exposure are screened.
Annual screening should begin at age 40; however, the optimal age of initiation for breast screening and the intervals for mammography are still being studied [American Cancer Society].
Bone Mineral Densities
Baseline screening should occur at menopause and after 50. The frequency thereafter has not been determined [National Osteoporosis Foundation].
Initiating treatment with ART at appropriate CD4 counts and viral load thresholds may be especially important in HIV-infected people over the age of 50 because there is evidence that they progress more quickly and have a lower potential for immune restoration [1,2]. Appropriate treatment with ART may mitigate some negative effects of aging with HIV infection, such as cognitive decline .
Risks of initiating ART include metabolic complications, such as lipid disorders, insulin resistance and diabetes, altered body fat distribution, and, consequently, a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. These ARV-related complications can be difficult to diagnose and manage in older patients who may have the same, age-related, pre-existent metabolic abnormalities.
Another potential risk of ART includes bone loss, although the relationship among HIV infection, ARV therapy, and bone loss in women remains unclear [4,5]. Components of ART, in particular NRTIs and PIs, have been associated with a decrease in bone density. However, some evidence does exist for higher bone density in women exposed to nevirapine . Multiple factors contribute to the development of osteopenia/osteoporosis in HIV-infected women, including age, heredity, and HIV infection itself.
The risk for drug interactions and/or serious toxicities increases with the number of medications a patient is taking, the age of the patient, the severity of the disease being treated, and the presence of renal and hepatic dysfunction. Older HIV-infected women frequently will have all of these risk factors and will be at increased risk for iatrogenic harm. Older people may have altered metabolism, which can impact pharmacokinetics and contribute to ARV toxicities and drug interactions.
Drug interactions with ART, particularly PIs, have become an increasingly complex challenge for clinicians treating HIV-infected patients. HAART medications are known to interact with major classes of drugs that are commonly used to treat older patients, such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, lipid-lowering agents, and many antibiotics and antifungals. Clinicians need to be aware of drugs that are associated with clinically significant drug interactions with HAART in order to avoid the use of these drugs or to monitor patients for virologic failure or toxicity.
- Lederman MM, McKinnis R, Kelleher D, et al. Cellular restoration in HIV infected persons treated with abacavir and a protease inhibitor: Age inversely predicts naive CD4 cell count increase. AIDS 2000;14:2635-2642.
- Belanger F, Meyer L, Carre N, et al. Influence of age at infection on human immunodeficiency virus disease progression to different clinical endpoints: The SEROCO cohort (1988-1994). The Seroco Study Group. Int J Epidemiol 1997;26:1340-1345.
- Vance DE, Burrage JW. Promoting successful cognitive aging in adults with HIV: strategies for intervention. J Gerontol Nurs 2006;32:34-41.
- Glesby MJ. Bone disorders in human immunodeficiency virus infection. Clin Infect Dis 2003;37(Suppl):S91-S95. Review.
- Dolan SE, Huang JS, Killilea KM, et al. Reduced bone density in HIV-infected women. AIDS 2004;18:475-483.
- Anastos K, et al. The association of bone mineral density with HIV infection and antiretroviral treatment in women. Eleventh Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, San Francisco, Abstract 744, 2004.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Menopause occurs at different ages for women. In general, women undergo menopause between the ages of 40 and 50. Signs and symptoms of menopause before the age of 40 is considered premature menopause.
HRT is no longer the standard of care for relief of menopausal symptoms. Recent studies have shown limited benefit for the prevention of cardiovascular risk. Therefore, if used, HRT should be used at the lowest effective doses for the shortest time possible for relief of menopausal symptoms .
- Provide HRT for the shortest possible time at the lowest effective doses
- Consult with the patient at least once a year about HRT therapy, working toward successfully discontinuing the use of HRT
- Recommend regular breast cancer screening: Annual clinical breast examinations and annual mammogram for women >40 (the optimal age of initiation for breast screening and the intervals for mammography are still being studied).
Clinicians can also refer to the following organizations for updated guidelines:
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Task Force Executive Summary
- North American Menopause Society
Safe and well-established alternatives to HRT are available for the prevention of coronary heart disease and osteoporosis. In addition, alternatives to HRT are available for treatment of symptoms of menopause (see below) but have not been shown to be as effective as HRT. Clinicians should remind women of the protective effects of exercise; weight control; improved nutrition, including calcium supplementation; and smoking cessation.
Alternatives to HRT for specific signs or symptoms of menopause:
- Hot flashes [2,3]/menopause symptom alleviation: Paroxetine, gabapentin, clonidine
- Vaginal dryness/atrophy: Water-based lubricants and vaginal estrogen preparations
- Prevention or treatment of osteoporosis:
- Alendronate sodium, risendronate, raloxifene, calcitonin
- Smoking cessation
- Decreased alcohol consumption
- Increased physical activity
- Calcium and vitamin D supplementation and correction of malnutrition
No significant interactions between HRT and HAART have been documented. However, studies of combined hormonal oral contraceptives show a 20% decrease in amprenavir (and presumably fosamprenavir) levels. Data also show that some ARV drugs reduce the AUC for estradiol in oral contraceptives. However, there is no current recommendation to increase the doses of estrogen in HRT while receiving HAART. In addition, risks for cardiovascular disease and the questionable benefit of HRT in decreasing osteoporosis in menopause have limited the use of HRT in all women.
- The North American Menopause Society. Estrogen and progestogen use in peri- and postmenopausal women: March 2007 position statement of The North American Menopause Society. Menopause 2007;14:168-182.
- Nelson HD, Vesco KK, Haney E, et al. Nonhormonal therapies for menopausal hot flashes: systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA 2006;295:2057-2071.
- Tice JA, Grady D. Alternatives to estrogen for treatment of hot flashes: are they effective and safe? JAMA 2006;295:2076-2078.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Depression affects as many as 20% of the HIV-infected population , and stress and depression have been reported among older women with HIV infection. Many of these women experience increased stress from limited healthcare services, lack of resources, and caring for others as well as themselves. In addition, older women are often omitted from research and educational programs. Mental health interventions, including the use of antidepressants, may provide a quality-of-life benefit for HIV-infected women who suffer from depressive symptoms .
Unmet needs for mental health services, substance use treatment, and social services may inhibit effective adherence and treatment for HIV . For some patients, referrals for these services may be necessary. For additional information, see NYSDOH AIDS Institute guidelines on mental health and substance use.
- Komiti A, Judd F, Grech P, et al. Depression in people living with HIV/AIDS attending primary care and outpatient clinics. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 2003;37:70-77.
- Miller SA, Santoro N, Lo Y, et al. Menopause symptoms in HIV-infected and drug-using women. Menopause 2005;12:348-356.
- Cook JA, Grey D, Burke J, et al. Depressive symptoms and AIDS-related mortality among a multisite cohort of HIV-positive women. Am J Public Health 2004;94:1133-1140.
Clinicians caring for HIV-infected older women have noted that decreased libido is a common complaint affecting quality of life. The lack of clinical trials on effective therapy for women has meant that clinicians are addressing a complicated issue with little scientific guidance. There are no data supporting the efficacy of testosterone use for the management of sexual dysfunction or decreased libido associated with menopause and/or HIV. Because the side effects, safety, and efficacy of long-term use of testosterone currently are not known, testosterone supplementation is not advised. However, decreased libido caused by depression or other psychosocial stressors should be considered and may be treatable.
|ALL RECOMMENDATIONS: MEDICAL CARE FOR MENOPAUSAL AND OLDER WOMEN|
Identification and Prevention of HIV Infection
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Mental Health and Substance Abuse