CHAPEL HILL -- One of the most difficult and frustrating problems for people who test positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is fatigue, but often doctors can't recommend much more to patients than getting additional rest. Unfortunately, more rest rarely helps, and some victims of the illness report being so tired that they must stop working altogether.
Now, a new pilot study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests that different factors -- or possibly a combination of several including depression and anxiety -- are responsible for patients' excessive tiredness.
Other contributors, researchers found, appear to be lower than normal amounts of hemoglobin, the complex molecule that carries oxygen to tissues; lower than normal hematocrit, which indicates the proportion of cells and fluids in the blood; and low levels of CD4 cells, the immune system defensive cells that the AIDS virus slowly destroy.
The UNC team studied 40 otherwise healthy HIV-positive patients in depth, collecting numerous test results at the UNC General Clinical Research Center. Besides recording physiological and nutritional data, scientists had patients complete five detailed questionnaires designed to measure how much depression, anxiety and fatigue they felt.
"We found that in many of our patients, more fatigue corresponded with people having fewer CD4 cells, lower hemoglobin and lower hematocrit," said Dr. Julie Barroso, assistant professor at the UNC School of Nursing. "We also had an interesting group of people who were statistically significant and different from the others in that they were fatigued but were not low on those measures."
When researchers looked at the sub-group more closely, they found fatigue corresponded strongly with high scores on the depression and anxiety tests, said Barroso, the principal investigator. Higher viral load, meaning increased levels of HIV in patients' blood, did not correspond with
Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill