AIDS onset isn't spurred by depression, study finds

December 01, 1993|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer

Casting doubt on a popular theory, a study of homosexual men infected with the AIDS virus has found no evidence that clinical depression speeds the development of the full-blown disease and death.

The study, involving 1,800 men in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, found that depression was relatively common but did not hasten the downward spiral of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions said their their findings should not lead doctors or patients to devalue symptoms of depression or place less importance in getting them treated.

"Depression is extremely important," Dr. Constantine Lyketsos, a psychiatrist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said yesterday. "People suffer more, commit suicide because of it, function poorly and have trouble working. But that doesn't mean that you're going to get AIDS sooner or die sooner."

Dr. Donald Hoover, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, said the findings may relieve some infected patients of the mistaken belief that they are somehow "at fault" for accelerating their physical symptoms.

The study's findings appear in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Other centers taking part in the study were the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Pittsburgh, Northwestern University in Chicago and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Bethesda.

Recent studies have found evidence that depression may hinder a person's ability to fight cancer and that people who take steps to boost their attitude in the face of disease often live longer.

In the AIDS study, about a fifth of the men suffered from depression. But, by various measurements, infected men deteriorated at the same rate whether or not they suffered from the emotional disorder.

For instance, 54 percent of depressed men and 52 percent of non-depressed men developed AIDS within eight years -- a difference that was not statistically significant.

A separate study from San Francisco General Hospital reached a slightly different conclusion -- that depression accelerated the destruction of CD4 cells, components of the immune system that are targets of HIV, the the AIDS virus.

But depressed men didn't progress any faster to full-blown AIDS or death.

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