Mental Health Guidelines Committee, November 2008
Many HIV-infected people experience somatic symptoms, including insomnia, pain, fatigue, poor appetite, weight changes, and sexual dysfunction. Although somatic symptoms are rarely life threatening, they occur frequently, are often overlooked, are difficult to treat, and adversely affect quality of life. Somatic symptoms are not diagnostic of any particular disorders. Instead, they are commonly multifactorial and often coexist with medical and/or psychiatric conditions.
This chapter addresses the presentation, effects, and management of somatic symptoms from a mental health perspective that includes discussion of medical causes. The importance of assessing patients for medical causes of somatic symptoms cannot be overstated, particularly when multiple symptoms present concomitantly. Any of the symptoms could be an indication of a medical condition, mental health disorder, or both. For example, symptoms such as abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss require careful assessment. Untreated or undertreated mental health disorders can worsen patients’ somatic symptoms and result in substantial emotional suffering, possibly leading to serious morbidity, even suicide.
Routine screening for somatic symptoms is essential because some patients may not consider their symptoms important until significant morbidity has resulted. In addition, the multifactorial nature of somatic symptoms may prevent patients from precisely articulating their symptoms. Clinicians should assess for new somatic symptoms at each visit with direct questions that elicit accurate responses from patients.
The questions listed below are included in the Patient Health Questionnaire 15-Item Somatic Symptom Severity Scale (PHQ-15) and detail symptoms that account for 90% of somatic symptoms encountered in the primary care setting .
During the past 4 weeks, how much have you been bothered by any of the following problems?
- Stomach pain
- Back pain
- Pain in your arms, legs, or joints (knees, hips, etc.)
- Menstrual cramps or other problems with your periods (women only)
- Chest pain
- Fainting spells
- Feeling your heart pound or race
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or problems during sexual intercourse
- Constipation, loose bowels, or diarrhea
- Nausea, gas, or indigestion
- Feeling tired or having low energy
- Trouble sleeping
These questions are scored as 0 (“not bothered”), 1 (“bothered a little”), and 2 (“bothered a lot”) to help clinicians determine both the number of symptoms a patient may be experiencing and the severity of the symptoms. Total PHQ-15 scores of 5, 10, and 15 represent cutoff values for low, medium, and high somatic symptom severity, respectively.
- Kroenke K, Spitzer RL, Williams J. The PHQ-15: Validity of a new measure for evaluating the severity of somatic symptoms. Psychosom Med2002;64:258-266. [PubMed]
Assessment, Diagnosis, and Management
Once the presence of somatic symptoms has been established, the cause of the symptoms should be determined (see below). Baseline and annual physical examination and mental health and substance use screening can ensure that possible underlying etiologies are identified and that patients receive timely treatment for any comorbid disorders.
Assessment for Disorders Associated with Somatic Symptoms
Immunologic and virologic assessment: CD4 count, viral load. Significant decline in immune function and high levels of viremia are often associated with somatic complaints.
Hematologic assessment: Neutropenia and anemia can be detected by complete blood count with a differential.
Metabolic assessments: Muscle enzyme elevations, abnormal hormonal levels (especially testosterone levels), electrolyte imbalances, liver enzyme elevations, thyroid dysfunction, vitamin deficiencies (including B12 and folate)
Syphilis screening: Can help identify acute versus latent infection. Acute syphilitic meningitis, as well as neurosyphilis, may result in physical or mental (or both) symptoms.
Mental health assessment: Cognitive impairment, depression, anxiety, sleep habits, appetite, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosocial status, suicidal/violent ideation; past psychiatric history, including diagnoses, hospitalizations, and psychotropic medications.
Substance use assessment: Past and current and frequency of use of alcohol, tobacco, street drugs (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, MDMA/ecstasy), or illicit use of prescription drugs. Toxicology screening (with the patient’s consent) may detect acute intoxication, addiction, or withdrawal.
Risk behaviors: Drug/needle sharing, exchanging sex for drugs, sexual risk-taking while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The distinction between a medical disorder and a mental health disorder is not always clear. For example, depression accompanies a variety of medical disorders and is independently associated with physiological changes in the body. Back pain, headache, abdominal pain, weight loss, and fatigue can all be somatic manifestations of depression. Shortness of breath, palpitations, abdominal pain, and dizziness can be manifestations of anxiety. Schizophrenia, bipolar mania, and other psychiatric disorders can all present with somatic symptoms.
Patients with mental health disorders may also present with somatic delusions. A somatic delusion is a false fixed belief of suffering from a disease that does not exist. For example, the depressed patient may say, My body is rotting inside. Somatic symptoms and somatic delusions, in the context of severe mental health disorders, can lead to self-destructive behaviors, including intentional or unintentional self-harm or suicide. Early identification and appropriate referral and treatment can be lifesaving in these cases.
For a comprehensive discussion regarding suicide assessment and treatment, refer to the Suicidality and Violence Guideline; information regarding depression and mania can be found in the Depression and Mania Guideline.
Assignment of symptoms to malingering or somatoform disorders, such as hypochondriasis, requires a careful initial assessment for other causes. When malingering or a somatoform disorder is suspected, consultation with a psychiatrist may be necessary for confirmation.
The management of somatic symptoms in combination with existing chronic illnesses, drug side effects and interactions, and the psychological and emotional state of the patient is a clinical challenge. When physical health disorders are accompanied by mental health disorders, it is important to treat both simultaneously. Knowledge about potential drug-drug interactions, dosing, and side effects is essential. Psychiatric medications and psychotherapy may be required in addition to medical treatment.
- Jackson JL, Passamonti M, Kroenke K. Outcome and impact of mental disorders in primary care at 5 years. Psychosom Med 2007;69:270-276. [PubMed]
Insomnia, or “problem sleeping,” is a common complaint among people with HIV. Insomnia can be multifactorial and, therefore, a complex condition to treat. Insomnia involves not only how many hours a patient sleeps at night but also how a patient feels upon waking and the patient’s perception of his/her quality of sleep. Insomnia can be acute or chronic and can be a primary or secondary condition attributable to a physiologic or mental health disorder. Patients who suffer from insomnia tend to have impaired daytime cognitive function , which can lead to increased absenteeism from work and other disruptions in life , including missed appointments. Other problems associated with insomnia include the following:
- Insomnia may be associated with nonadherence to ARV therapy 
- Physical and mental health disorders, including acute episodes of most severe mental illnesses, can cause insomnia and/or worsen preexisting primary insomnia
- Insomnia can be an early sign of relapse in patients with a history of mental health disorders 
- Insomnia may become even more severe in advanced HIV infection 
- A patient with insomnia has greater risk of a first episode of depression than a patient without insomnia 
Possible medical, mental health, and substance use etiologies of insomnia are listed below.
Medications that may cause insomnia as a side effect: β-blockers, bronchodilators, calcium channel blockers, corticosteroids, decongestants
ARVs: Efavirenz has been associated with a variety of disturbances in sleep-wake patterns and nightmares; lamivudine has been associated with mood disturbances
Medical conditions: Hyperthyroidism, chronic renal failure, lung disease, congestive heart failure, pain, diarrhea, incontinence, fever, dyspnea and sleep apnea, periodic limb movements in sleep or restless limb syndrome
Mental health etiologies: Side effects of psychotropic medications, including SSRIs; severe psychiatric disorders, including mania and psychosis; mood and anxiety disorders
Substance use etiologies: Illicit drug use, particularly stimulant drugs; alcohol and caffeine consumption; nicotine
A careful evaluation of the possible causes of insomnia should be conducted before initiating treatment. Lack of response to treatment after a reasonable period may require a mental health referral to assess for an underlying mental health disorder.
Strategies to improve sleep:
- Avoid napping during the day
- Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, soda), alcohol, and nicotine before bedtime, or abstain completely
- Take hot baths before bedtime
- Exercise for ≥30 min/day most days of the week; however, avoid exercise before bedtime
- Place the bedroom clock out of sight
- Practice a bedtime routine, such as going to bed and waking up at a set time
- Avoid activities that are otherwise performed outside of the bedroom, such as working
- Avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, such as watching television or browsing the Internet
Behavioral therapy may benefit some patients with insomnia. Techniques may include cognitive therapy, relaxation training, sleep restriction, and phototherapy. When possible, patients with insomnia should be evaluated at least once by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist, who may be more likely to identify an underlying mental health disorder that warrants more aggressive monitoring and management.
Clinicians should offer practical nonpharmacologic methods of improving sleep. See above for specific strategies.
The medications described below are commonly used to treat insomnia. Barbiturates, choral hydrate, and meprobamate were previously prescribed to treat insomnia; however, because of their narrow therapeutic windows and potential for abuse, they are no longer drugs of choice. All of these drugs should be prescribed with caution because patients may develop tolerance within a short period of time, and withdrawal symptoms may be severe. Some patients may also experience next-morning impairment despite feeling fully awake.
Sedative/hypnotic agents: The newer hypnotic agents, zaleplon (Sonata), zolpidem (Ambien), and eszopiclone (Lunesta), are benzodiazepine receptor agonists with shorter half-lives than benzodiazepines. Hypnotics may have decreased addiction potential compared with older agents. However, impairment from hypnotics may be present the morning after use. These drugs may be used on an as-needed basis rather than nightly; it is easier for patients to discontinue a drug that they are not taking every day. The inhibition of CYP3A4 enzyme activity by PIs is also a concern when prescribing benzodiazepine receptor agonists, particularly eszopiclone.
Benzodiazepines with long half-lives, such as flurazepam, may be most beneficial for use in patients whose insomnia is associated with anxiety. However, some primary care clinicians are wary of prescribing this class of agents because of the addiction potential and the residual drowsiness patients may experience the following day. Temazepam (Restoril) has been used with success and has an intermediate half-life. Although protease inhibitors (PIs) may prolong the duration of many benzodiazepines because of inhibition CYP3A4 enzyme activity, resulting in excessive daytime somnolence, this effect does not apply to temazepam, which is metabolized by glucuronidation.
Antidepressants: These agents have been used to induce sleep.
- Trazodone can promote sleep and is widely used for this purpose. However, trazodone levels are increased by PIs, especially when they are boosted; therefore, lower doses should be used in patients receiving PIs. Trazodone may cause priapism, but the incidence is low.
- Tricyclic antidepressants are beneficial but have longer half-lives than short-acting hypnotic agents, and potential adverse effects include cardiac dysrhythmias and pulmonary complications. A routine electrocardiogram should be performed before prescribing tricyclics, and this class of drugs should not be prescribed to patients with cardiac conduction problems. However, tricyclic antidepressants also have characteristics that may benefit some patients, including treatment of chronic pain, promotion of weight gain, and reduction of diarrhea. Routine blood levels of tricyclic antidepressants should be obtained in patients receiving long-term treatment. However, assessment of blood levels may not be necessary for patients without liver disease who are receiving low doses of these agents (e.g., 10 to 25 mg/day amitriptyline, nortriptyline, doxepin, or desipramine).
- The SSRI antidepressants are not sufficiently sedating to be used as sleeping agents.
Antihistamines: While many clinicians continue to prescribe antihistamines for sleep, side effects that should be taken into consideration include daytime drowsiness, diminished daytime cognitive abilities, and uncomfortable anticholinergic effects
Melatonin and melatonin-agonist drugs: Clinicians should be familiar with doses and potential adverse reactions associated with melatonin therapy, including over-the-counter preparations. The melatonin agonist ramelteon (Rozerem), the first of a new class of melatonin agonists to receive FDA approval, has been approved for the treatment of insomnia and may have some advantages over sedative/hypnotic agents with regard to dependence and overuse. However, patients should be cautioned about potentially severe adverse reactions, including hypersensitivity reactions such as anaphylaxis and angioedema. Importantly, long-term interactions with ARV agents are unknown at this time.
- Randazzo AC, Schweitzer PK, Stone KL, et al. Impaired cognitive function in insomniacs vs. normals. Sleep 2000;23:A4.
- Kuppermann M, Lubeck DP, Mazonson PD, et al. Sleep problems and their correlates in a working population. J Gen Intern Med 1995;10:25-32. [PubMed]
- Ammassari A, Murri R, Pezzotti P, et al. Self-reported symptoms and medication side effects influence adherence to highly active antiretroviral therapy in persons with HIV infection. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 2001;28:445-449. [PubMed]
- Ohayon MM, Roth T. Place of chronic insomnia in the course of depressive and anxiety disorders. J Psychiatr Res 2003;37:9-15. [PubMed]
- Darko DF, Mitler MM, Henriksen SJ. Lentiviral infection, immune response peptides and sleep. Adv Neuroimmunol 1995;5:57-77. [PubMed]
- Ford DE, Kamerow DB. Epidemiologic study of sleep disturbances and psychiatric disorders. An opportunity for prevention? JAMA 1989;262:1479-1484. [PubMed]
Pain is a complex phenomenon that includes both a sensory component and a component of psychological distress. Pain can be described in a variety of ways, and careful diagnostic evaluation results in better treatment and outcomes.
- Acute nociceptive pain: Typically constant, well-localized, and either sharp or stabbing or dull and cramping, depending on the area and injury involved.
- Chronic pain syndromes: Involve more complex sensations and descriptions but can mimic any of the sensations associated with acute pain.
- Neuropathic pain (sometimes pain is a mixture of nociceptive and neuropathic factors): Characteristically burning, tingling, lancinating, or electric-like.
The experience of pain cannot be easily separated from either the mental health or the physical state of the patient. Pain is often associated with fatigue, anxiety, sleep disorders, changes in appetite, and depressive symptoms, and HIV-infected patients are at increased risk for certain painful conditions, such as neuropathy. Social environments, cultural backgrounds, and psychological and emotional pain contribute to the manner in which people perceive and cope with physical pain. In addition, pain prevalence in injection drug users (IDUs) may be different from that in non-IDUs . Current or former IDUs may have lower pain tolerance, or higher tolerance to analgesics, than non-IDUs.
Possible medical etiologies are assessed first and, once excluded, are followed by assessment for mental health and substance use etiologies.
- HIV progression: Severity of pain, its distribution, and its effect on quality of life all increase as HIV progresses; declining CD4 cell counts are directly related to the likelihood of developing pain syndromes .
- Diabetes: Diabetes can cause or contribute to neuropathic and nociceptive pain.
- Opportunistic infections: Herpes simplex virus or varicella zoster virus can cause or contribute to neuropathic and nociceptive pain.
- Postherpetic neuralgia: A fairly common problem in patients who have had advanced HIV; the condition usually has many of the features of other neuropathic pain syndromes, with burning and prickly sensations in combination with pain.
- Complications of the peripheral or central nervous system: Injury or malfunction in the peripheral or central nervous system, such as those resulting from tumors or scar tissue, can cause inflammation or compression of nerves.
- Depression: Pain is often a presenting symptom of depression and is more likely to persist in patients with depression; depressed patients often have a lower threshold for pain.
- PTSD and anxiety disorders: A substantial proportion of people living with HIV/AIDS have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or another anxiety disorder. Patients with PTSD symptoms report greater pain severity and greater disturbance of affect and interference with performance of daily function than those without this disorder . Any anxiety disorder can lower the threshold for pain.
- Substance use: Substance use may contribute to the development of pain and inability to tolerate pain, as well as to the development of mental health disorders; in turn, patients with pain may develop substance use problems or dependence on prescribed analgesics.
- Psychosocial problems: May include stressful living conditions or family crises, such as the loss of a job, or death of a loved one; domestic violence; and/or daily activities that cause pain, including employment responsibilities that may cause or exacerbate pain.
Acute pain associated with immediate injury is usually handled with direct antinociceptive treatments, including narcotics and antiinflammatory drugs. Chronic pain, which is often associated with psychological and functional morbidity, may require more complex and multidisciplinary approaches. Despite the importance of pain management, chronic pain remains undertreated in the HIV-infected population . Clinicians report lack of knowledge, inadequate availability of pain management specialists, and concerns about prescribing opioids and possible drug abuse as major obstacles to improved pain management. Although limited studies exist, some evidence suggests that non-white race, fewer years of education, greater numbers of physical symptoms, and greater psychological distress are independent factors associated with inadequate pain management. Furthermore, it is often difficult for patients living in predominantly non-white neighborhoods to fill prescriptions for opioids .
Patient response to pharmacologic pain treatment: Experts in pain management have established definitions of dependence, tolerance, and pseudoaddiction to describe patients’ responses to pain treatment (see below) . These definitions can assist clinicians in understanding patients’ behavior in response to treatment and to determine whether changes to patients’ treatment should be made accordingly. Importantly, the definitions below are different from those established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, which describes the terms tolerance and dependence in the context of intoxication and substance abuse.
- Dependence: Does not refer to a disorder; does refer to the situation in which there has been enough exposure to a substance that its abrupt cessation would lead to a withdrawal syndrome. Occurs in relation to many classes of drugs, including opioids and certain antihypertensives and antidepressants
- Tolerance: Is not used to characterize addiction; it indicates the need for a higher dose of drug to maintain the same level of effect. Is common to many classes of drugs and may or may not signal a progression of underlying disease.
- Pseudoaddiction: Occurs when medical staff interpret the attempts of patients to obtain analgesics as addictive behaviors when the behavior is actually a consequence of untreated or undertreated pain .
When a patient exhibits drug-seeking behavior, the minimal differential diagnosis includes dependence, tolerance, pseudoaddiction, psychiatric comorbidity, addiction, and criminal intent. Distinction among these entities by a psychiatrist or by a clinician with experience in identifying underlying causes of drug-seeking behavior will enable the primary care clinician to respond appropriately to such behavior.
Pain, fatigue, and depression: Pain is often accompanied by fatigue and depression, and these conditions can sustain one another and complicate treatment [8,9]. In patients with depression, the presence of chronic pain increases the severity of the physical symptoms of depression (including fatigue and insomnia), the duration of depressive episodes, and the frequency of recurring depressive episodes . Although most studies have evaluated the relationship of pain and depression, pain may also be related to other psychiatric disorders, such as PTSD and anxiety disorders. In patients with comorbid PTSD and chronic pain, it is likely that several factors mutually maintain the PTSD and the chronic pain, so that treating one in isolation from the other will be less effective than addressing both.
Pain in substance users: A multidisciplinary approach should be used for the management of pain in patients with comorbid substance use and mental health disorders. Pain is often undertreated in this population, and it can be particularly difficult to treat in the primary care setting, which often does not provide mental health services or substance use treatment services. Management of pain in HIV-infected substance users is further complicated by the possibility that these patients may require higher doses of medications for the pain to be alleviated. Clinicians also need to be aware of the possibility of the pain medicine being used or distributed illicitly.
For a detailed discussion regarding the treatment of pain in HIV-infected substance user, see the Substance Use Guidelines Pain in the Substance User with HIV Infection.
- Martin C, Pehrsson P, Osterberg A, et al. Pain in ambulatory HIV-infected patients with and without intravenous drug use. Eur J Pain 1999;3:157-164. [PubMed]
- Singer EJ, Zorilla C, Fahy-Chandon B, et al. Painful symptoms reported by ambulatory HIV-infected men in a longitudinal study. Pain 1993;54:15-19. [PubMed]
- Smith MY, Egert J, Winkel G, et al. The impact of PTSD on pain experience in persons with HIV/AIDS. Pain 2002;98:9-17. [PubMed]
- Breitbart W, Rosenfeld BD, Passik SD, et al. The undertreatment of pain in ambulatory AIDS patients. Pain 1996;65:243-249. [PubMed]
- Morrison RS, Wallenstein S, Natale DK, et al. “We don’t carry that”—Failure of pharmacies in predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods to stock opioid analgesics. N Engl J Med 2000;342:1023-1026. [PubMed]
- Portenoy RK. Definitions and principles of assessment. In: Contemporary Diagnosis and Management of Pain in Oncologic and AIDS Patients.Newtown, PA: Handbooks in Health Care; 2000:14-43.
- Lusher J, Elander J, Bevan D, et al. Analgesic addiction and pseudoaddiction in painful chronic illness. Clin J Pain 2006;22:316-324. [PubMed]
- Bair MJ, Robinson RL, Eckert GJ, et al. Impact of pain on depression treatment response in primary care. Psychosom Med 2004;66:17-22. [PubMed]
- Skapinakis P, Lewis G, Mavreas V. Temporal relations between unexplained fatigue and depression: Longitudinal data from an international study in primary care. Psychosom Med 2004;66:330-335. [PubMed]
- Ohayon MM. Specific characteristics of the pain/depression association in the general population. J Clin Psychiatry 2004;65(Suppl 12):5-9. [PubMed]
Fatigue is a frequent and distressing symptom for people with HIV infection. The prevalence of fatigue among outpatients with HIV may be as high as 37% . Fatigue is generally multifactorial and can accompany other symptoms, such as pain, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction. In HIV-infected patients, fatigue is strongly associated with clinical AIDS and hemoglobin levels ≤12 g/dL . Fatigue is both predictive and a consequence of depression . In a study of primary care patients from the general population, approximately 40% of patients suffering from fatigue had a past diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorder, with 17.2% receiving a current diagnosis of major depression .
Possible medical, medication-related, and mental health etiologies for fatigue are listed below.
- Infections: Chronic viral hepatitis, mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus, extrapulmonary mycobacterium tuberculosis, M. avium complex
- Neurologic disorders including multiple sclerosis and stroke
- Systemic/metabolic/endocrinologic disorders: Electrolyte imbalance, HIV-associated neuropathy, type 2 diabetes, anemia, endocrine disorders including hypothyroidism and hypogonadism, connective tissue disorders, obesity and nutritional deficiencies, major organ impairment or failure
- Disrupted sleep, including sleep apnea
- HIV-related medications: Zidovudine and other nucleoside analogs, PIs, ganciclovir, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX), interferon
- Mental health etiologies: Affective disorders, especially major depression and dysthymia; anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, substance use
If fatigue is not related to depression, psychostimulants may offer some benefit in managing severe HIV-related fatigue. Psychostimulants may also be used to treat fatigue associated with a variety of medical and psychiatric conditions, such as hepatitis C virus, medication-related depression, HIV dementia, and pain. However, psychostimulants should be prescribed with caution. Modafinil, a non-amphetamine-derived psychostimulant, has demonstrated efficacy in some patients with HIV-related fatigue and may have less abuse potential than traditional psychostimulants .
Fatigue related to sleep apnea may require treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Evaluation of sleep in a laboratory is often required for such a diagnosis.
When fatigue is related to hypogonadism, replacement therapy with testosterone, either through biweekly injections or gel preparations, has been shown to be safe and effective in testosterone-deficient HIV-infected men. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) or testosterone replacement therapy has been studied in women [5,6], but safety and efficacy have not been established.
- Sullivan PS, Dworkin MS; Adult and Adolescent Spectrum of HIV Disease Investigators. Prevalence and correlates of fatigue among persons with HIV infection. J Pain Symptom Manage 2003;25:329-333. [PubMed]
- Addington AM, Gallo JJ, Ford DE, et al. Epidemiology of unexplained fatigue and major depression in the community: The Baltimore ECA follow-up, 1981-1994. Psychol Med 2001;31:1037-1044. [PubMed]
- Cathebras PJ, Robbins JM, Kirmayer LJ, et al. Fatigue in primary care: Prevalence, psychiatric comorbidity, illness behavior, and outcome. J Gen Intern Med 1992;7:276-86. [PubMed]
- Rabkin JG, McElhiney MC, Rabkin R, et al. Modafinil treatment for fatigue in HIV+ patients: A pilot study. J Clin Psychiatry 2004;65:1688-1695. [PubMed]
- Rabkin JG, McElhiney MC, Rabkin R, et al. Placebo-controlled trial of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) for treatment of nonmajor depression in patients with HIV/AIDS. Am J Psychiatry 2006;163:59-66. [PubMed]
- Mylonakis E, Koutkia P, Grinspoon S. Diagnosis and treatment of androgen deficiency in human immunodeficiency virus-infected men and women. Clin Infect Dis 2001;33:857-864. [PubMed]
Appetite and Weight Loss
Malnutrition and being underweight affect quality of life and place HIV-infected people at risk for increased morbidity and mortality. Depression can be associated with anorexia, weight loss, and psychomotor retardation. These patients should be referred as soon as possible for psychiatric evaluation.
- Dietary restrictions: Suboptimal caloric intake can result from medication side effects, gastrointestinal conditions, or poor dental health.
- Malignancy: Patients with cancer, particularly advanced cancer, often present with weight loss and anorexia.
- Hypogonadism: Androgen insufficiency often occurs in HIV-infected men and women and results in weight loss in association with loss of both lean body mass and bone mineral density [1,2].
- Depression, mania, and anxiety disorders: These disorders can cause either an increase or a decrease in appetite and may be associated with weight change.
- Substance use: Substance use, particularly methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin use, can be associated with decreased appetite and weight loss.
- Eating disorders: Anorexia nervosa; bulimia nervosa (can also be associated with weight fain).
Poor appetite and inadequate caloric intake can lead to increased side effects from ARV therapies, which can lead to poor adherence. Additionally, weight redistribution or abnormal redistribution of body fat can occur with ARV treatment. Patients experiencing disfigurement attributable to ARV therapy are at risk for developing depressive symptoms .
A registered dietician can work with patients to prescribe an acceptable nutritional plan. Nutritional supplements may benefit patients who are unable to consume enough food to meet daily caloric requirements. The use of anabolic steroids or dronabinol may help alleviate wasting in HIV-infected patients. Inpatient parenteral nutritional therapy may be necessary in extreme cases. Weight loss attributable to hypogonadism may be alleviated by hormone replacement therapy.
- Kalyani RR, Gavini S, Dobs AS. Male hypogonadism in systemic disease. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am 2007;36:333-348. [PubMed]
- Dolan SE, Carpenter S, Grinspoon S. Effects of weight, body composition, and testosterone on bone mineral density in HIV-infected women. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 2007;45:161-167. [PubMed]
- Corless IB, Kirksey KM, Kemppainen J, et al. Lipodystrophy-associated symptoms and medication adherence in HIV/AIDS. AIDS Patient Care STDS 2005;19:577-586. [PubMed]
Sexual dysfunction is a complex issue for many clinicians treating HIV-infected patients. Management considerations involve not only treatment of the symptoms and improvement of patients’ sexual health but also behavioral counseling to ensure that patients practice safe sex, particularly effective barrier protection, to avoid HIV transmission. Assessment for sexual dysfunction can enable detection of medical, mental health, psychosocial, and substance use disorders associated with sexual dysfunction.
The potential factors for sexual dysfunction can be classified into those that are biological and psychological (see below). However, in the majority of cases, a combination of psychological and biological factors is responsible for sexual dysfunction.
Patients experiencing more complex problems, such as significant difficulties within a relationship, substance use, history of a traumatic sexual experience or abuse, or severe depression and anxiety disorders, may require referral for mental health services. Patients with persistent patterns of compulsive sexual behavior that have an addictive quality may develop a high frequency of risky behaviors and may need specialized treatment for this problem.
Biological and physical factors associated with sexual dysfunction include the following:
- Metabolic: Hyperglycemia/diabetes, lipodystrophy
- Endocrine: Hypogonadism, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, hyperprolactinemia
- Neurologic: Central nervous system interference, including that induced by antidepressants; spinal cord injury; peripheral neuropathy
- Cardiovascular: Atherosclerosis, hypertension, dyslipidemia
- Infection: Pelvic inflammatory disease, Balanitis/vulvovaginitis
- Iatrogenic: Medication-related, drug-drug interactions, radiotherapy, surgery
- Psychological: May include any of the following:
- Traumatic sexual experience or abuse
- Poor sex education
- Psychosocial barriers to healthful living
- Substance use
- Reaction to lipodystrophy
- Relationship problems
- Loss of partner
- Performance anxiety
- Diminished libido
- Poor communication skills
- Fear of transmitting HIV
- Fear of superinfection with treatment-resistant HIV or infection with another STI
The treatment of sexual dysfunction in HIV-infected patients is based on the specific symptoms and/or any known underlying factors.
Lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking, losing excess weight, and increasing physical activity, may help some people overcome sexual dysfunction. Consideration of changing medications for certain medical conditions may also be appropriate.
Hypogonadism is a common cause of not only sexual dysfunction but also low mood, fatigue, and weight loss in HIV-infected men and women. Replacement therapy with testosterone may be beneficial in men. Testosterone has been used in women, but its safety and efficacy have not been established. Low estrogen levels in women can result in too little lubrication, vaginal epithelial atrophy, and dyspareunia. After consideration of the potential risks and benefits, limited estrogen replacement therapy, particularly in the form of estrogen vaginal gel, may provide relief from these symptoms. Commercial, water-based vaginal lubricants also may ameliorate the symptoms of vaginal atrophy and painful sex.
In men, premature ejaculation can be treated with SSRIs and/or sex therapy. However, SSRIs and many other psychotropic medications have side effects that can interfere with sexual function.
For erectile dysfunction (ED), the phosphodiesterase inhibitors sildenafil citrate (Viagra), vardenafil hydrochloride (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis) may be considered. However, their effects on cardiovascular function require careful assessment of patients’ cardiovascular risk. Contraindications for these medications include concomitant treatment with nitrate-based drugs, hypotension, cardiovascular risk factors, and severe hepatic and renal impairment. Special consideration is required for patients receiving treatment with α-blockers because of the risk of a sudden decrease in blood pressure when the drugs are taken within a short time of one another (within approximately 4 hours). Dosing considerations are also necessary when ED medications are used with ARV therapy.
Mental Health Guidelines Committee, November 2008
|ALL RECOMMENDATIONS: SOMATIC SYMPTOMS|
Assessment, Diagnosis, and Management
Appetite and Weight Loss