Getting help for chronic pain

People with HIV infection often experience chronic pain. However, the direct causes of this pain vary. It is important to learn about the possible causes. And it’s important to talk with your doctor about the pain you’re experiencing that may be related to HIV infection.

The relationship between HIV and chronic pain

People with HIV infection may experience chronic pain because of the infection or the drugs that treat it. Some factors that can cause pain include:

  • inflammation caused by the infection
  • lowered immunity from the effects of HIV infection on your immune system
  • side effects of HIV medication

Pain caused by HIV is often treatable. However, HIV-related pain is often underreported and goes untreated. That’s why it is important to tell your doctor if you are experiencing pain. Once your doctor knows about it, they can work with you to find the direct cause and create a treatment plan that won’t complicate your HIV treatment.

Finding the right treatments for HIV-related pain

Treating chronic pain related to HIV requires a delicate balance between relieving pain and preventing complications. Many HIV medications can interfere with pain medications, and vice versa. Also, HIV-related pain can be more difficult to treat than other types of chronic pain.

Your doctor must consider the following factors when recommending a treatment for your HIV-related pain:

  • medications you take, including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, and herbal products
  • your HIV infection treatment history
  • your history of medical conditions in addition to HIV infection

Some medications may actually heighten pain sensitivity in people with HIV infection. Your doctor may first have you stop taking certain medications or reduce your dosage to see if it helps resolve your pain.

However, you should never stop taking any prescription medication without your doctor’s consent. If stopping or reducing certain medications doesn’t work, or isn’t possible, your doctor may have you try one of the following pain medications:

Nonopioid pain relievers

Mild pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen, can treat mild pain. But talk with your doctor first before you use these products. You want to make sure that you don’t use too much of these drugs. Overuse of these drugs can cause damage to your stomach, liver, or kidneys.

Topical anesthetics

Topical anesthetics, such as patches and creams can provide some relief in people with mild to moderate pain symptoms. But, it’s possible topical anesthetics can interact negatively with some medications, so talk with your doctor before using them.


Long-acting opioids can help relieve symptoms of moderate to severe HIV-related pain. These types of drugs include:

However, it’s important to be aware that treatment with opioids may be problematic for some people. If your doctor prescribes these drugs for you, it’s critical that you take them exactly as your doctor instructs so you can avoid issues such as opioid abuse and addiction.

HIV neuropathy

HIV neuropathy is damage to your peripheral nerves caused by HIV infection. It causes a specific type of HIV-related pain. Peripheral neuropathy is one of the most frequent neurologic complications of HIV infection. It’s been associated with some of the older treatments for HIV. Symptoms of this condition include:

  • numbness in your extremities
  • unusual or unexplainable sensations in your hands and feet
  • painful sensation without a cause that you can identify
  • muscle weakness
  • tingling in your extremities

If you have one or more of these symptoms, talk with your doctor. Tell your doctor when your symptoms started, what they are, and what makes them better or worse. If your doctor confirms that your HIV-related pain is caused by HIV neuropathy, they can recommend a specific course of treatment for you.

Talk to your doctor

If you have HIV infection and are experiencing pain, it’s important to speak up. There are many causes of HIV-related pain. It can be difficult to treat, but relieving pain is often possible. Your doctor can help you identify the factors that are causing your pain. This is the first step to finding a treatment that is right for you.