BACKGROUND: Most studies on religion/spirituality predicting health outcomes have been limited to church attendance as a predictor and have focused on healthy people. However, confronting a major medical crisis may be a time when people turn to the sacred.
OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which changes in spirituality/religiousness occur after HIV diagnosis and whether changes predict disease progression.
DESIGN/PARTICIPANTS: This longitudinal study examined the relationship between changes in spirituality/religiousness from before with after the diagnosis of HIV, and disease progression (CD4 and viral load [VL] every 6 months) over 4 years in 100 people with HIV. Measures included change in religiousness/spirituality after diagnosis of HIV, religiousness/spirituality at various times in one's life, church attendance, depression, hopelessness, optimism, coping (avoidant, proactive), social support, CD4/VL, and health behaviors.
RESULTS: Forty-five percent of the sample showed an increase in religiousness/spirituality after the diagnosis of HIV, 42% remained the same, and 13% decreased. People reporting an increase in spirituality/religiousness after the diagnosis had significantly greater preservation of CD4 cells over the 4-year period, as well as significantly better control of VL. Results were independent of (i.e., held even after controlling for) church attendance and initial disease status (CD4/VL), medication at every time point, age, gender, race, education, health behaviors (adherence, risky sex, alcohol, cocaine), depression, hopelessness, optimism, coping (avoidant, proactive), and social support.
CONCLUSIONS: There is an increase in spirituality/religiousness after HIV diagnosis, and this increase predicts slower disease progression; medical personnel should be aware of its potential importance.