Subject:  Stress and ARS (1/15/02)

Q.      can you talk a little about what you've found regarding the effects of stress on someone who is waiting out a window or testing period?

i've heard & read a lot about how the effects of stress can cause more or less the same sumptoms as ARS....

A.      You are correct, the effects of anxiety and stress can very much mimic the symptoms of ARS.  Stress can have a large physiological effect on you causing a ton of different symptoms.  It can make you tired, wired, elevate your temperature, cause various aches and pains (including sore throats and headaches), difficulties with bowel movements, difficulties with breathing, burning mouth syndrome (which people frequently mistake for thrush…thrush would be indicated by a white, cottage cheese-like layer on your mouth, not just your tongue, which is easily scraped away leaving a red area underneath, and is also very rare during ARS), insomnia and the list just goes on.  Even swollen glands can be a symptom of stress, although kind of indirectly.  If you are nervous about ARS and keep rubbing your glands to see if they are swollen, you can irritate them and cause them to swell.  Another common symptom I have seen among “worried well” is painful armpits…people read that swollen glands in the armpits are possibly indicative of ARS, and suddenly, their armpits hurt, without anything actually swollen there.  Generally, what you want to look out for if you are concerned if your symptoms are being caused by stress is think about when you experience symptoms.  Are they worse when you’re thinking about what is stressing you out?  Do they pretty much disappear when you’re not thinking about it?  This is one of the many reason I frequently will state that you cannot diagnose HIV based on symptoms alone, only by testing.  If you are experiencing symptoms, particularly if they go on for a long period of time or worsen, you should seek medical care, regardless of the cause; however, if you are especially stressed out, make sure you mention that to the physician. 

Waiting out the window period or waiting for test results will stress out pretty much anyone who gives a damn about their health.  If the stress is so bad that you are experiencing physical symptoms related to it, that is an indication that you may need to seek some help.  If you don’t want to see a professional, turn to a close friend or family member.  From what I have seen among those who were very stressed out over the possibility of HIV (including myself), most of them have had very low to no risk exposures and were probably worrying over nothing, and another person may help you to see that.  Remember, being very stressed out about HIV is a normal thing, and is to be expected, but if it is controlling one’s life and causing them to be constantly miserable, that’s not normal and needs to be corrected.  Sometimes a simple negative HIV test will do the trick, but sometimes not, and getting testing repeatedly during the window period will probably not alleviate the stress.   Hope that answers your question, and feel free to write back if you have any more.

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