Thinking skills take biggest hit from anxiety in midlife women with HIV

Hot flashes, depression, and most of all, anxiety, affect the thinking skills of midlife women with HIV, so screening for and treating their anxiety may be especially important in helping them function, according to a study just published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). The reproductive stage, whether it was premenopause, perimenopause or postmenopause, did not seem to be related to these women's thinking skills.

The conclusions come from a new analysis of data on 708 HIV-infected and 278 HIV-uninfected midlife from the Women's Interagency HIV Study (WHIS), a national study of women with HIV at six sites across the country (Chicago, Bronx, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC). Today, nearly 52% of persons with HIV/AIDS are 40 to 54 years old. Because more women with HIV are now living to midlife and beyond, it is important to understand what challenges pose for them. We learned just recently, from a study published online in Menopause in July, that women with HIV do face a bigger menopause challenge than uninfected women because they have worse .

Whether, how, and when the process of transitioning through menopause affects cognition have been debated. Large-scale studies of healthy women indicate that the menopause-related thinking deficiencies are modest, limited to the time leading up to menopause (""), and rebound after menopause. But in these women who underwent mental skills testing, menopause symptoms and mood symptoms did affect thinking skills.

Mental processing speed and verbal memory were more related to depression, , and in both HIV-infected and healthy women than the stage of menopause. Hot flashes in particular correlated with slightly lower mental processing speed, a skill that is also affected by the HIV virus. Depression correlated with decreased verbal memory, processing speed, and executive function (such as planning and organizing).

Of all the symptoms measured, anxiety stood out as having the greatest impact on , and the impact was much greater on women with HIV. Anxiety particularly affected their verbal learning skills. So treating anxiety may be key to improving the lives of midlife women with HIV, concluded the investigators.

"Unfortunately, HIV infection is associated with modest deficits in multiple domains of cognitive function, even in women who regularly take their HIV medications. These depression and anxiety symptoms add to those cognitive vulnerabilities, but can be treated," says senior author and NAMS Board of Trustees President-Elect Pauline M. Maki, PhD, from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

More information: The article, "Investigation of menopausal stage and symptoms on cognition in human immunodeficiency virus-infected women," will be published in the September 2014 print edition of Menopause.

Related Stories

Hot flashes take heavier toll on women with HIV

date Jul 03, 2013

Women with HIV are living longer, so more are entering menopause. As they do, they suffer more severe hot flashes than women without HIV, and their hot flashes take a heavier toll on their quality of life and daily functioning, ...

It's not your imagination: Memory gets muddled at menopause

date May 23, 2013

Don't doubt it when a woman harried by hot flashes says she's having a hard time remembering things. A new study published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), helps confirm with o ...

Nerve block eases troublesome hot flashes

date Feb 05, 2014

Injecting a little anesthetic near a nerve bundle in the neck cut troublesome hot flashes significantly, shows a new randomized, controlled trial published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...

Recommended for you

A bad buzz: Men with HIV need fewer drinks to feel effects

date Apr 20, 2015

Researchers at Yale and the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System compared the number of drinks that men with HIV infection, versus those without it, needed to get a buzz. They found that HIV-infected men were more sensitive to ...

Research informs HIV treatment policy for inmates

date Apr 16, 2015

A national, five-year study of care for inmates with HIV brought strangers together, produced policy change in the Delaware Department of Corrections and documented the importance of good communication and ...

Six questions about HIV/AIDS that deserve more attention

date Apr 14, 2015

As HIV investigators work to control and eradicate the virus worldwide, certain myths or misconceptions about the disease have been embraced, whereas other concepts with merit have been left relatively unexplored, ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.