Peripheral neuropathy

Neuropathy refers to any type of nerve damage or injury. Neuropathy is common in people with HIV and AIDS and may be related to HIV infection itself and/or the drugs used to treat HIV. It occurs in 30 to 60% of persons with HIV infection and significantly impairs quality of life. It is often under-treated.

The nervous system consists of the central nervous system (CNS), comprised of the brain and the spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), comprised of the nerves that connect the CNS to the skin, muscles, and organs throughout the body. Peripheral nerves are responsible for sensation (sensory nerves), movement (motor nerves), and automatic bodily functions (autonomic nerves). Damage to nerves in the PNS is referred to as peripheral neuropathy.

Some anti-HIV drugs, in particular the dideoxynucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, or ‘d-drugs,’ can cause peripheral neuropathy. Such agents are referred to as neurotoxic. There are several different forms of peripheral neuropathy, classified according to the types of nerves affected:

  • Sensory neuropathy affects the nerves that relay information from the sense organs and those responsible for sensation (pain, pressure, heat) in the skin.
  • Motor neuropathy affects the nerves that relay instructions from the spinal cord to the muscles and other parts of the body that carry out voluntary action.
  • Autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that control automatic bodily functions such as breathing, heartbeat, sweating, and emptying of the stomach.

In persons with HIV and AIDS, most neuropathy is distal symmetrical polyneuropathy, meaning it starts in the extremities, affects both sides of the body, and involves multiple nerves. Neuropathy induced by anti-HIV medications is sometimes called antiretroviral toxic neuropathy.

Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.