Severe Symptoms: Women, HIV, and MenopauseWednesday, October 02, 2013 by: Greener Ideal
Due to an increase of successful new methods in HIV/AIDS treatment, individuals who are suffering from HIV are living much longer than previously expected. Prior to the introduction of antiretroviral therapy (ART), a treatment plan that combines multiple drugs in order to suppress the HIV virus and stop the progression of HIV into AIDS, patients who lived beyond 40-50 years of age were shortlisted for a life of pain, discomfort, and eventual death.
Now, with advances in treatment of the HIV virus, older patients with HIV are opening new areas of study. In particular, many groups of researchers are focusing their attention on HIV-positive menopausal women (typically aged 45-55). Reports of increased severity of menopausal symptoms, such as unusually intense hot flashes and irregular menstrual cycles, triggered the interest in the possible link between HIV and menopause.
Menopause, the naturally occurring process of a woman’s menstrual cycle ending, affects all women with uncomplicated reproductive systems. Symptoms typically include hot flashes, severe mood swings, decrease in bone density, weight gain, sagging breasts, night sweats, and, ultimately, a stop to the menstrual cycle. While symptom intensity may vary, menopause rarely interferes with day-to-day activities.
However, HIV positive women report complete disruption of their daily routines given the intensity of their hot flashes. A study published by The North American Menopause Society cites that “periomenopausal HIV-infected women experience greater hot flash severity and greater hot flash-related interference with daily activities and quality of life.”
The study continues on to suggest that HIV-positive women going through menopause will also experience more severe mood swings, an increase in irritability, and an increased likelihood of depression.
A separate study, published by the International AIDS Society, also explored the new link between HIV and menopausal women. They found that HIV-positive menopausal women, in addition to severe hot flashes, also suffered from a significant reduction in bone density compared to uninfected HIV menopausal women, up to a 5% difference.
Neither study has yet to publish a concrete reason for why HIV-positive women are experiencing such a radically different set of menopause symptoms as this is fairly new, uncharted territory for medical researchers and the HIV community.
While an increase in hot flash severity and decrease in bone density in menopausal HIV-positive women may not be breaking news, it does present new and unique questions for the HIV/AIDS community.
The increase in average longevity for infected individuals means scientists, researchers, and healthcare providers must prepare for the combination of geriatric care in combination with HIV/AIDS care which may cause treatment interference and complication.
Already, HIV-positive menopausal women are experiencing this dilemma as their antiretroviral therapy (ART) or other drug therapy program is interfering with the treatment of their menopausal symptoms. Most ART programs require an abstinence from drugs and alcohol that conflicts with the typical treatment of menopause which can range from hormone therapy, anti-depressants, and neurontin (a drug which reduces the effects of hot flashes).
The growth of older patients, both men and women, who are HIV-positive presents a new field of study for scientists which must be addressed. Long-term effects of HIV in correlation to age and age-related diseases have yet to be thoroughly studied and the problems have yet to be solved.
Until then, women—both HIV-positive and not—will have to cool themselves down with the nearest fan and wait.