Many chronic illnesses can cause pain. Children can have pain caused by their disease or from the tests that are done to them. Children who are sick for a long time tell us that the worst thing about being sick is the hurt they get from tests and treatments. There are many things we can do to stop the hurting. Sometimes doctors and nurses forget to do these things. If you are a parent taking care of a child with HIV or another sickness, you can ask your doctor or nurse to help stop the pain.

What Types of Pain Are Caused by HIV?

Abdominal or Tummy Pain

This can be caused by one of the infections that gets into the gut of children with HIV. The pain can happen all the time, or it can come and go. It can be dull or sharp. The child may have more pain after eating or when the stomach is empty. There may be diarrhea or vomiting with the pain. Sometimes it is so bad the child stops eating and loses weight.


Children can get headaches just like grown-ups. When a child who has HIV gets a headache, we look for an infection in the sinuses (sinusitis) or even in the brain (meningitis or encephalitis). Sometimes headaches are caused by not being able to see well. Other times the headaches come from stress or tension.

Ear Pain

Children with HIV, like many other children, can get ear infections (otitis) which can hurt a lot. Sometimes the ear infection takes longer to get better so the pain lasts longer.

Mouth Pain

There are a few different infections that can happen in the mouth or throat. Thrush (white patches or red sores) and herpes (cold sores) can happen on the tongue, gums or roof of the mouth. Small ulcers called aphthous ulcers can also develop. All of these can cause pain. Sometimes the pain is so bad that the child stops eating and drinking. Babies may drool.

Pain of the Arms and Legs

HIV/AIDS can cause muscle pain and joint pain. Sometimes the cause for this is known, most times it is not. Some young children with HIV/AIDS have HIV in the brain. This causes their legs and arms to be stiff or tight (spastic) and to have spasms (when the muscle pulls even tighter). This causes pain.

Skin Sores and Rashes

There are many infections of the skin that cause pain or itching. Chickenpox and herpes cause blisters that can hurt and itch. Sometimes after the sores goes away there can still be severe pain (neuropathy). Fungus infections like ringworm can itch or get another infection that causes pain. Diaper rash can hurt.

All Over the Body Pain

Some children with HIV complain about pain "all over." They cannot tell us exactly where it hurts, just that they hurt. Usually the children who have this type of pain are very sick with their HIV/AIDS.