AIDS and Pain


Pain equal to that of cancer strikes 30 to 80 percent of AIDS patients and increases as the disease progresses.




AIDS pain is caused by many factors: cancer, opportunistic infections, peripheral neuropathy (PN), a condition of the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system includes all the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord, such as nerves that send sensations from the hands and feet.


PN is a result of damage to the peripheral nerves. This nerve damage affects the nerve's ability to send pain and sensation impulses from the feet and hands to the brain. It can become so severe that a person is unable to walk.


What Causes Nerve Damage and PN?


There are several causes of nerve damage resulting in PN. Anything that can cause damage to the peripheral nerves can cause PN. Some examples are:


Opportunistic Infections


Opportunistic infections occur as a side effect of some medications including those used to treat HIV and as a result of damage caused by HIV itself.


What HIV Medications Should I Be Concerned About?


Some but not all HIV drugs can cause PN. In addition there are some medications used to treat associated conditions that can also cause PN. Medications known to cause PN are:


  •     Hivid (ddC)
  •     Videx and Videx EC (ddI)
  •     Zerit (d4t)
  •     Dapsone (used to decrease the risk of PCP)
  •     Isoniazid (INH) (used to treat TB)
  •     Flagyl (a commonly used antibiotic)


If acted upon quickly, stopping the medication in question will usually resolve the PN. On occasion, lingering symptoms of PN will persist after stopping the meds.


If you're experiencing the symptoms of PN, contact your doctor immediately.


Medicines used to control PN include:


  • NeurontinNeurontin: An anti-convulsant
  • Amitriptyline or Nortriptyline: Anti-depressants that increase peripheral nerve impulses
  • Ibuprofen: for mild symptoms
  • B Vitamins


Cytomegalovirus (CMV)


CMV can cause retinitis (blurred vision and blindness), painful swallowing, diarrhea, and pain, weakness, and numbness in the legs.


AIDS and Hepatitis


For people infected with HIV through needle exposure -- probably due to drug use -- 40% or more may also have hepatitis C. The National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Program Hepatitis Section (NATAP)was started to raise awareness about this problem, and to provide basic education and more advanced scientific information. They offer extensive information on Hepatitis.


Organizations and Support Groups


National Aids Treatment Advocacy Project Reports, research, conferences, news, medications.


Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation


Elton John's AIDS Foundation


American Foundation for AIDS Research



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