Emotional state of persons with HIV and clinical parameters – are they linked?
Persons with HIV often experience strong chronic stress which – as current status of knowledge indicates – is more linked to psychosocial factors (e.g. social stigmatisation) than medical ones. This stress is experienced not only by individuals with recently diagnosed HIV infection, but equally frequently persists many years after the infection, which potentially has an adverse effect on the health of this group of patients. On the other hand, the time that elapses after HIV infection has been confirmed may facilitate adaptation, especially if the disease is well controlled by appropriate treatment.
Conclusions from commonly conducted studies focused on negative emotions suggest that the higher the level of negative emotions, the greater the risk of deteriorated immunological functioning and the greater probability of entering the AIDS phase. Decidedly less numerous research results indicate relatively stable levels of positive emotions among persons with HIV, sometimes even many years after the diagnosis, thus showing a relation not only with a slower progress of the disease, but also with a lower risk of death. However, such results should be approached with caution bearing in mind that the participants of such studies are as a rule high functioning individuals. Such persons have greater social capital, are aware of the diagnosis and have access to medical treatment.
In our study we wanted to check to what extent emotional state of people with HIV would be stable in the long term. Secondly, we wanted to verify whether possible changes in the level of emotional state would be related to the course of HIV infection expressed by the current CD4 lymphocyte count.
To answer the research questions we observed the emotional state and course of the disease in 141 patients infected with HIV over a period of a year. Three times (i.e. at six-month intervals) we gave the patients psychological questionnaires and a survey form in which the subjects described their current course of the infection measured, among others, by the CD4 lymphocyte count.
The results of the study show a relation between the level of negative emotions and the level of CD4 lymphocytes. The patients who declared the highest level of negative emotions had at the same time the lowest level of CD4 lymphocytes. Interestingly, higher levels of negative emotions and lower levels of CD4 lymphocytes were recorded in the studied group of women with HIVthan in men infected with this virus.
Thus, our work is consistent with the findings of studies which provide arguments in favour of the hypothesis that chronic presence of negative emotions may be related to a worse clinical condition defined by the CD4 lymphocyte count, which can occur, for example, as a result of the patient’s becoming more easily discouraged and ceasing to follow medical recommendations. The results of our research also identify gender as a moderator of the relation between negative emotions and clinical condition. However, the matter requires further longitudinal studies in view of its potential clinical relevance.
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