AIDS Behav. 2021 Aug 4. doi: 10.1007/s10461-021-03406-6. Online ahead of print.
People living with HIV (PLWH) experience higher rates of comorbid chronic pain conditions compared to the general population. Managing HIV and chronic pain, two stigmatized health conditions, can exacerbate physical and psychological suffering. The current qualitative study was designed to increase our understanding of the experience of living with HIV and chronic pain. Twenty participants were recruited from a hospital-based immunology center to participate in individual in-depth qualitative interviews. The interviews focused on the experience of living with (or managing) chronic pain for PLWH. All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed and double-coded. Several themes emerged from our applied thematic analysis of the transcripts. The primary theme was that pain remained poorly managed among PLWH. Patients engaged in a variety of pain management strategies and described benefits from both traditional pain management interventions (e.g., pharmacology, physical therapy) as well as non-traditional approaches (e.g., medical marijuana, cannabidiol products, and spirituality). Other themes that emerged included barriers related to health insurance and the need to validate the patient pain experience. PLWH and chronic pain described compounding effects of managing two chronic health conditions, including perceived immune system over-activation, heightened awareness of illness, and negative mindset. More research is needed to improve care for those managing these often co-occurring health conditions.