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Hypnosis for Treatment of HIV Neuropathic Pain: A Preliminary Report


  • Disclosure: Dr. Simpson has received fees for consultancies, advisory services, and/or industry-sponsored lectures from the following: Acorda Therapeutics Inc.; Allergan, Inc.; Astellas Pharma Inc.; Depomed; Eli Lilly and Company; Forest Laboratories, Inc.; Ipsen; Merck & Co., Inc.; Merz Pharmaceuticals, LLC; NeurogesX; Pfizer Inc.; Solstice Neurosciences, LLC (US WorldMeds); and Syntaxin. None of the other authors reported potential conflicts of interest.

Address correspondence to: David Dorfman, PhD, Department of Psychiatry (Box 1230), Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, NY 10029-6574, USA. E-mail:



Painful HIV distal sensory polyneuropathy (HIV-DSP) is the most common nervous system disorder in HIV patients. The symptoms adversely affect patients' quality of life and often diminish their capacity for independent self-care. No interventions have been shown to be consistently effective in treating the disorder. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether hypnosis could be a useful intervention in the management of painful HIV-DSP.


Participants were 36 volunteers with HIV-DSP who received three weekly training sessions in self-hypnosis. Participants were followed for pain and its sequelae for 7 weeks prior to the intervention, and for 7 weeks postintervention. Participants remained on the same standard-of-care pain regimen for the entire 17 weeks of the protocol. The primary outcome measure was the Short Form McGill Pain Questionnaire cale (SFMPQ) total pain score. Other outcome measures assessed changes in affective state and quality of life.


Mean SFMPQ total pain scores were reduced from 17.8 to 13.2 (F[1, 35] = 16.06, P < 0.001). The reductions were stable throughout the 7-week postintervention period. At exit, 26 out of 36 (72%) had improved pain scores. Of the 26 who improved, mean pain reduction was 44%. Improvement was found irrespective of whether or not participants were taking pain medications. There was also evidence for positive changes in measures of affect and quality of life.


Brief hypnosis interventions have promise as a useful and well-tolerated tool for managing painful HIV-DSP meriting further investigation.