Objective: Although there is evidence that stress is associated with alterations in immunity, the role of emotional factors in the onset and course of immune-based diseases such as cancer and AIDS has not been established. This prospective study was designed to test the hypothesis that stressful life events accelerate the course of HIV disease.
Method: Ninety-three HIV-positive homosexual men who were without clinical symptoms at the time of entry into the study were studied for up to 42 months. Subjects received comprehensive medical, neurological, neuropsychological, and psychiatric assessments every 6 months, including assessment of stressful life events during the preceding 6-month interval. Several statistical approaches were used to assess the relation between stress and disease progression.
Results: The time of the first disease progression was analyzed with a proportional hazard survival method, which demonstrated that the more severe the life stress experienced, the greater the risk of early HIV disease progression. Specifically, for every one severe stress per 6-month study interval, the risk of early disease progression was doubled. Among a subset of 66 subjects who had been in the study for at least 24 months, logistic regression analyses showed that higher severe life stress increased the odds of developing HIV disease progression nearly fourfold. the degree of disease progression was also predicted by severe life stress when a proportional odds logistic regression model was used for analysis.
Conclusions: This report presents the first evidence from a prospective research study that severe life event stress is associated with an increased rate of early HIV disease progression.