Unhealthy Behaviours for Self-management of HIV-related Peripheral Neuropathy

The prevalence of peripheral neuropathy is frequent in HIV disease and is often associated with antiretroviral therapy. Unhealthy behaviours, particularly substance-use behaviours, are utilized by many HIV-positive individuals to manage neuropathic symptoms. As part of a larger study on self-care for symptoms in HIV disease, this study analyzed the prevalence and characteristics of unhealthy behaviours to self-manage peripheral neuropathy in HIV disease. Sociodemographic and disease-related correlates and unhealthy behaviours were examined in a convenience sample of 1,217 respondents who were recruited from data collection sites in several US cities, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Taiwan. Results of the study indicated that respondents with peripheral neuropathy (n=450) identified a variety of unhealthy self-care behaviours including injection drug use, oral drug use, smoking cigarettes and alcohol ingestion. Specific unhealthy behaviours that participants reported to alleviate peripheral neuropathy included use of marijuana (n=67), smoking cigarettes (n=139), drinking alcohol (n=81) and street drugs (n=30). A subset of those individuals (n=160), who identified high levels of neuropathy (greater than five on a scale of 1-10), indicated significantly higher use of amphetamines and injection drug use in addition to alcohol use and cigarette smoking. For participants from Norway, substance use (using alcohol: 56%) was one of the most frequent self-management strategies. Implications for clinical practice include assessment and education of persons with HIV for self-care management of the complex symptom of peripheral neuropathy.