Original articles

Neuropathic pain in AIDS patients prior to antiretroviral therapy

Sonia Anne Hitchcock, Helgard Meyer, Liz Gwyther


Objectives: To measure the prevalence, severity and morbidity of neuropathic pain in AIDS patients, prior to the initiation of antiretroviral therapy.
Design: A prospective, cross sectional and descriptive-analytical study.
Setting: The Kalafong Hospital HIV clinic in Pretoria.
Subjects: All patients with confirmed AIDS, who were referred to the Kalafong HIV clinic in order to be initiated on antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, during the period August 2006 to March 2007.
Outcome measures: Data were collected regarding the presence and severity of neuropathic pain in each subject. Pain of predominantly neuropathic origin (POPNO) was identified using the Neuropathic Pain Diagnostic Questionnaire (DN4). Numerical rating scales (NRS), adapted from the Brief Pain Inventory, were used to measure pain severity and pain-related interference with six aspects of daily living.
Results: Of the 354 patients studied, 20.9% (95% CI: 16.8% to 25.2%) had POPNO. This pain was significantly more frequent in patients who were male, had lower CD4+ counts or higher viral load levels and those using tuberculosis treatment. Eighty percent of patients with POPNO experienced significant pain (worst pain severity ≥ 5 out of 10 on a NRS). Pain-related interference was highest for enjoyment of life, mood and ability to work. There was a significant positive correlation between severity of pain and pain-related interference for all domains of daily living evaluated.
Conclusions: POPNO results in significant suffering and impaired functioning in patients with AIDS. It is therefore imperative that clinicians should assess patients with AIDS for the presence and severity of neuropathic pain and manage it, using the most recent evidence based guidelines.

Authors' affiliations

Sonia Anne Hitchcock, Department of Family Medicine, Kalafong Hospital, University of Pretoria

Helgard Meyer, Department of Family Medicine, Kalafong Hospital, University of Pretoria

Liz Gwyther, UCT

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HIV/AIDS; neuropathic pain; pain assessment

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2008;98(11):889.

Article History

Date submitted: 2008-01-30
Date published: 2008-11-07

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