HIV/AIDS and Peripheral Neuropathy

Is it sunny and warm or hot and humid today?

Is it sunny and warm or hot and humid today?

If you have HIV/AIDS, at some point in the progression of your disease you’ll probably develop peripheral nerve damage or peripheral neuropathy. HIV/AIDS peripheral neuropathy is common by most estimates, in roughly one-third of HIV/AIDS patients especially in advanced cases.

While that may not be surprising, what you should also know is that some forms of peripheral nerve damage like Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP) may affect early onset patients.

Your doctor may even be able to tell how far your HIV/AIDS has progressed by diagnosing the type of peripheral neuropathy you’ve developed.  As your disease progresses, your peripheral neuropathy will as well.

Exactly What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that develops when the peripheral nervous system is damaged by a condition like diabetes, cancer or HIV/AIDS.  When these nerves are damaged, they no longer communicate properly and all the bodily functions they govern are disrupted.

Depending upon which nerves are damaged and the functions they serve, you can develop serious or even life threatening symptoms.

Why Do AIDS Patients Develop Peripheral Neuropathy?

HIV/AIDS patients develop peripheral neuropathy for a number of reasons[1]:

•      The virus can cause neuropathy.

Viruses can attack nerve tissue and severely damage sensory nerves. If those nerves are damaged, you’re going to feel the pain, quickly.

The virus that causes HIV, in particular, can cause extensive damage to the peripheral nerves.  Often, the progression of the disease can actually be tracked according to the specific type of neuropathy the patient develops.  Painful polyneuropathy affecting the feet and hands can be one of first clinical signs of HIV infection.

•      Certain medications can cause peripheral neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy is a potential side effect of certain medications used to treat HIV/AIDS.  Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI’s) or, in layman’s terms, the “d-drugs” (i.e., Didanosine, Videx, Zalcitabine, Hivid, Stavudine and Zerit) most often cause peripheral neuropathy.

Other drugs, such as those used to treat pneumocystis pneumonia, amoebic dysentery, Kaposi’s sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, other cancers, wasting syndrome and severe mouth ulcers can all lead to peripheral neuropathy as well.

•      Opportunistic infections that HIV/AIDS patients are prone to develop are another cause of peripheral neuropathy.

The hepatitis C virus, Varicella zoster virus (shingles), syphilis and tuberculosis are all infections that can lead to problems with the peripheral nervous system.

How Do You Know If You Have Peripheral Neuropathy?

Most HIV/AIDS patients with peripheral neuropathy complain of[2]:

•     Burning

•     Stiffness

•     Prickly feeling in their extremities

•     Tingling

•     Numbness or loss of sensation in the toes and soles of the feet

•     Progressive weakness

•     Dizziness

•     Loss of bladder and bowel control

Why Should You Worry About Peripheral Neuropathy?

If your peripheral neuropathy affects the autonomic nervous system, you could develop

•     Blood pressure problems

•     Heart rate issues

•     Bladder or bowel control issues

•     Difficulty swallowing because your esophagus doesn’t function properly

•     Bloating

•     Heart burn

•     Inability to feel sensation in your hands and feet

Beyond being uncomfortable, any of these conditions can cause serious health issues; some can even be fatal.

Treatment Options for Peripheral Neuropathy

If you have HIV/AIDS and you think you’ve developed peripheral neuropathy, see a specialist immediately.  A good place to start is with your local NeuropathyDR® clinician for a treatment plan specifically designed for you.

You can help your neuropathy specialist treat you and help yourself, too, by:

•     Stop taking the drugs that cause peripheral neuropathy (but never discontinue drug therapy without supervision by your treating physician)

•     Start non-drug treatments to reduce pain like avoiding walking or standing for long periods, wearing looser shoes, and/or soaking your feet in ice water.

•     Make sure you’re eating properly.

•     Take safety precautions to compensate for any loss of sensation in your hands and feet, like testing your bath water with your elbow to make sure it’s not too hot or checking your shoes to make sure you don’t have a small rock or pebble in them before you put them on.

•     Ask about available pain medications if over the counter drugs aren’t helping.

Contact us today for information on the best course of treatment to deal with the pain of peripheral neuropathy caused by HIV/AIDS and taking steps to ensure that you don’t have permanent nerve damage.

For more information on coping with peripheral neuropathy, get your Free E-Book and subscription to the Weekly Ezine “Beating Neuropathy” at http://neuropathydr.com.

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