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Headaches May Plague Many With HIV/AIDS

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Headache affects 50 percent of HIV/AIDS patients in the United States, and many of those headaches are severe, a new study says.

About 27.5 percent of the 200 HIV/AIDS patients in the study suffered "chronic migraine," a rare condition in which a person has migraine symptoms (with or without other headaches) for 15 or more days a month. This condition occurs in only 2 percent of the general population.

"This translates into a 13-fold increased risk of chronic migraine among patients with HIV disease," study author Todd Smitherman, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Mississippi, said in a university news release.

"The strongest predictor of headache was the severity of HIV disease, such that patients with more advanced disease had more frequent, more severe and more disabling migraines," he added.

For the study, the researchers interviewed Montgomery, Ala., clinic patients who have HIV or AIDs and reviewed their medical records to look for any other cause of headache.

The findings, recently published online in the journal Headache, could help lead to improved treatment and reduced medical costs for HIV patients who suffer headaches, the researchers said.

"This research is of interest to clinicians and physicians for several reasons," Smitherman said. "Recent research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that, despite the availability of medications that effectively slow disease progression, most Americans with HIV do not have the disease under control. Our study shows that patients with poorly controlled HIV/AIDS are most prone to suffer also from frequent, severe migraines at rates that far exceed those of the general population."

The authors said theirs is the first study since highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) became widely available to find that having HIV/AIDS is associated with a very high risk of headache, particularly migraines.

Doctors need to regularly monitor immune system functioning in HIV/AIDS patients and pay close attention to headache symptoms in those with more advanced disease, the researchers said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about headache.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Mississippi, news release, Dec. 6, 2011

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