Can HIV infection lead to PTSD?
HIV infection entails not only negative somatic consequences but also numerous problems of psychological and social nature. Addictions, depression and anxiety disorders are mentioned among the most frequent ones. However, increasingly often psychiatrists diagnose posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in such patients. PTSD develops as a result of experiencing traumatic events which constitute an immediate threat to health and life. Typical symptoms of PTSD include: recurring sudden involuntary memories of the traumatic event (flashbacks), avoidance of situations associated with the experienced trauma, and a sense of psychophysical arousal.
PTSD was for a long time associated only with experience of events that go beyond the scope of ordinary human experience, such as war, natural disasters or catastrophes. However, as early as in 1994 American psychiatrists noted that diagnosis and life with a potentially fatal somatic disease might also be a very powerful stressor leading to PTSD. Scientists linked PTSD to, among others, cancer, cardiologic diseases and HIV infection.
In the case of persons with HIV, trauma is of complex and multifaceted nature. The awareness of a potential life threat, the need for life-long compliance with the treatment rigour, dealing with side effects of the treatment, as well as the still strong stigmatisation of persons with HIV are powerful stressors, which may cause symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. Research shows that from 30% up to 65% of persons with HIV meet PTSD diagnostic criteria.
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