Autonomic dysfunction is common in HIV and associated with distal symmetric polyneuropathy

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Neurologic complications of HIV are well characterized in the central and peripheral nervous systems but not in the autonomic nervous system, perhaps due to the complexities of measuring autonomic function in medically ill populations. We hypothesized that autonomic dysfunction is common in HIV, can be meaningfully measured with an autonomic reflex screen, and is associated with distal symmetric polyneuropathy (DSP) but not with signs of CNS disease. We also sought to characterize immunovirologic and medical factors associated with autonomic dysfunction. We assessed 102 HIV-infected adults for autonomic dysfunction with a laboratory-based autonomic reflex screen summarized as the composite autonomic severity score (CASS). The total neuropathy score (TNS) was used to quantify DSP based on neurologic interview/examination, quantitative sensory testing, and nerve conduction studies. Autonomic dysfunction was common, with a CASS ≥ 3 in 61 % of participants, of whom 86 % were symptomatic. Greater CASS abnormalities demonstrated univariate association with increasing TNS, age, viral load, hypertension, and use of medications (particularly anticholinergics), but not with antiretrovirals, current/nadir CD4+ count, HIV duration, metabolic factors, or signs of CNS disease. The TNS was the only significant predictor of the CASS in multivariate analysis; anticholinergic medications were marginally significant. This study demonstrates that autonomic dysfunction is common and frequently symptomatic in HIV and that an autonomic reflex screen, adjusted for anticholinergic medication, is useful in its assessment. Association of autonomic dysfunction with DSP suggests common factors in their pathogenesis, and autonomic neuropathy may be part of the spectrum of HIV-associated peripheral nerve pathologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-180
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of NeuroVirology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • Anticholinergic
  • Autonomic
  • HIV
  • Neuropathy


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