Stress, Emotional Factors Can Affect Progression of HIV/AIDS, Study Says
Dealing with stress, taking a realistic view of one's health and having good self esteem might slow the progression of HIV/AIDS, according to a study presented recently at an American Psychosomatic Society meeting in Budapest, Hungary, USA Today reports. Conall O'Cleirigh of Harvard Medical School and Gail Ironson of the University of Miami studied 174 men and women. At the start of the study, participants wrote an essay describing their emotional responses to a traumatic event and most wrote about issues associated with HIV/AIDS. Researchers measured the participants' CD4+ T cell counts and viral loads every six months for four years. Researchers who did not know the participants' CD4 counts and viral loads examined their essays for four qualities: realism, good self esteem, addressing problems directly and emotional expression. Researchers took into account the participants' disease stage, medications, education and other factors that could affect HIV/AIDS progression, according to O'Cleirigh. The researchers found that CD4 cells declined more slowly and viral loads were lower among participants who dealt with stress in emotionally healthy ways at the start of the study, O'Cleirigh said. He added that people who cope better with stress might be more likely to find a doctor and regularly take their medications. They also might "reap benefits to their immune system because they're coping well with stress," O'Cleirigh said. The stress hormone cortisol hinders the immune system, and people who handle stress might have less cortisol, USA Today reports. "We don't know exactly how these emotions work to affect illness," Susan Folkman, director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at University of California-San Francisco Medical School, said, adding, "But I don't think we're talking magic. ... It's probably a combination of behaviors that might slow progression and effects on the immune system from the emotions." According to O'Cleirigh, the study's findings suggest that doctors should look at how HIV-positive people are coping with stress, adding that people who are not managing it well should be referred to counseling (Elias, USA Today, 3/13).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.