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AIDS Cocktail: Medicine, Faith and Trust

March 20, 2002

Long-term AIDS survivors are far more likely than those whose disease progresses faster to be caring altruists with strong spiritual faith and trust in their doctors, suggest studies released over the weekend. There is growing evidence that patients who live longer are significantly different from those who start out just as well but fall ill sooner, said psychiatrist Gail Ironson of the University of Miami. She reported findings from several studies of 182 HIV-positive men and women at the recent American Psychosomatic Society meeting in Barcelona. Although some studies have linked personal qualities to a better prognosis with AIDS, Ironson's is the first in which most patients were taking protease inhibitors.

"Even with lifesaving drugs," Ironson says, "this shows that psychological factors are still important in predicting who's going to become a long survivor." Several studies from Ironson's research team show:

  • Survivors living up to seven years after a serious AIDS-related illness are much more likely than a control group of patients to express compassion for others and spiritual convictions. They have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that impairs the immune system, "and that may give them a survival edge," Ironson says.

  • HIV-positive people with no AIDS-related illnesses to start had less of the virus in their system a year later, and healthier blood counts, if they found some meaning in their HIV diagnosis, such as a signal that they are supposed to change their lives for the better. Those who saw meaning were less anxious and depressed.

  • Self-acceptance and acceptance by family, friends and co-workers also predicted healthier blood counts and lower virus levels during a year.

"You can't change your family, but the take-home message is to find friends or a support group that will accept you, and get into a positive work environment if you can," Ironson said.

Back to other CDC news for March 20, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
USA Today
03.19.02; Marilyn Elias

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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