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January 22, 1996

Determinants of Nontraditional Therapy Use in Patients With HIV Infection: A Prospective Study

Arch Intern Med. 1996;156(2):197-201. doi:10.1001/archinte.1996.00440020107013

Background:  The popularity and use of nontraditional therapies among patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection has grown enormously.

Design:  A prospective, longitudinal cohort study of 56 patients aged 23 through 68 years with HIV infection followed up at the HIV clinic at a university-affiliated Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Objective:  To assess the demographic and psychologic characteristics of patients who seek nontraditional remedies, and their impact on disease progression and mortality from HIV.

Methods:  A standardized, self-administered questionnaire to assess the incidence and type of nontraditional therapies used by patients with HIV. Data on demographics, medical status, physical functioning (Karnofsky performance score), CD4 lymphocyte counts, depression (Beck Depression Inventory), coping (inventory of coping with illness scale), psychological and/or emotional stress (Profile of Mood States scores), and compliance with prescribed therapy were prospectively assessed on all patients at baseline and every 6 months.

Results:  Thirty percent of patients reported using nontraditional therapies. Nontraditional therapy users were significantly older than patients who did not use such therapies (44 vs 38 years, P=.03); with 94% of patients who used nontraditional therapy being older than 35 years compared with 56% of conventional therapy users (P=.005). Alternative therapy use did not correlate with race, education, HIV—risk group affiliation, duration of HIV seropositivity, stage of HIV disease, CD4 cell count, or Karnofsky performance scores. Nontraditional therapy users reported greater community-based acquired immunodeficiency syndrome group support (P=.06), greater perceived social support (P=.08), and significantly higher recreational or "street drugs" use (P=.02). Depression, adaptive coping, and emotional stress were not different between nontraditional and conventional therapy users; however, nontraditional therapy users were significantly more assertive (P=.04). On follow-up, CD4 cell count, HIV disease progression, physical functioning, or mortality were similar between the two groups.

Conclusions:  Recourse to nontraditional therapy is common among patients with HIV. Because of the possibility of untoward effects and potential adverse drug interactions associated with nontraditional therapy, HIV care givers should be aware of its use in their patients and take a history of nontraditional therapy use. Patients who choose nontraditional remedies do so not because they are depressed or emotionally disturbed, but rather because they seek greater control of the outcome of their disease. However, no beneficial effect on disease progression, CD4 cell count, or mortality was observed in these patients when compared with patients receiving only conventional medical therapy.(Arch Intern Med. 1996;156:197-201)