A review of the use of complementary and alternative medicine and HIV: Issues for patient care

Ava Lorenc, Nicola Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (SciVal)


HIV/AIDS is a chronic illness, with a range of physical symptoms and psychosocial issues. The complex health and social issues associated with living with HIV mean that people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) have historically often turned to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). This article provides an overview of the literature on HIV and CAM. Databases were searched using keywords for CAM and HIV from inception to December 2012. Articles in English and in Western countries were included; letters, commentaries, news articles, articles on specific therapies and basic science studies were excluded. Of the 282 articles identified, 94 were included. Over half reported prevalence and determinants of CAM use. Lifetime use of CAM by PLWHA ranged from 30% to 90%, with national studies suggesting CAM is used by around 55% of PLWHA, practitioner-based CAM by 15%. Vitamins, herbs, and supplements were most common, followed by prayer, meditation, and spiritual approaches. CAM use was predicted by length of time since HIV diagnosis, and a greater number of medications/symptoms, with CAM often used to address limitations or problems with antiretroviral therapy. CAM users rarely rejected conventional medicine, but a number of CAM can have potentially serious side effects or interactions with ART. CAM was used as a self-management approach, providing PLWHA with an active role in their healthcare and sense of control. Clinicians, particularly nurses, should consider discussing CAM with patients as part of patient-centered care, to encourage valuable self-management and ensure patient safety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-10
Number of pages8
JournalAIDS Patient Care and STDs
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


  • Complementary Therapies
  • HIV Infections
  • Humans
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Phytotherapy


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