Community Acupuncture and HIV/AIDS

by Stef Cordes & Lisa Baird, with help from Jasper Smith

Living with chronic illness is tough. It often means having to adjust to the demands of the illness as well as therapies used to treat the condition. Stress, anxiety, and anger are all very common.

Then there’s living with HIV/AIDS. Currently in Canada, HIV infections do not usually turn into AIDS unless someone is without access to effective treatment, or is significantly neglecting their medication regimen. If the condition does progress into AIDS, the immune system can be weakened to the point where “opportunistic infections” develop, potentially leading to rapid weight loss, fevers and night sweats, extreme fatigue, diarrhea, swollen lymph nodes, shingles, and pneumonia.

And then there’s the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.

Stigma is the result of fear and ignorance surrounding the disease, and HIV discrimination means treating someone poorly based on their actual or suspected HIV status. Actual and perceived stigma and discrimination usually lead to isolation at a time when people most need help and support.

What can acupuncture help with?

Studies show that for seropositive folks, acupuncture can help with disturbed sleep, diarrhea, nausea, overall quality of life, and HIV related pain and neuropathy. Acupuncture will not interact with medication, and can actually help with the side effects of medication like diarrhea, nausea, headaches, and itching.

Acupuncture has also been shown to support the immune system. Although we were unable to find any studies on CD4 counts in people living with HIV, CD4 counts have gone up in folks with cancer after acupuncture, so it may help with CD4 counts in cases of HIV.

Stress usually goes up after a diagnosis like HIV. This can dramatically affect your recovery and how you cope. Luckily we know that acupuncture is great at treating stress, it’s one of the most common complaints folks come in with and we commonly see excellent results.

Universal precautions and your privacy

At GCA we use universal precautions for blood-borne illnesses, which means that we use new sterile single-use needles with every single one of our patients, and promptly dispose of each needle after use.

Our intake form gives you an opportunity to disclose your serostatus, but you choose what parts of the intake form you fill out. Knowing your status could give us a sense of other symptoms you may be experiencing, but we can treat you effectively for your symptoms without knowing your serostatus. You decide what you want to tell us, and when.

There are very few diagnoses that come with the stigma and discrimination associated with of HIV and AIDS. Isolation is a real factor in our physical and mental health; human beings are not built to struggle through things alone. One of of the reasons that people love coming to our clinic is because it interrupts isolation.

If you have questions about how community acupuncture can support you, please get in touch.

9 recliners in a semi-circle, each with a patient resting under red blankets. Practioner seated on a small black stool giving a treatment to one patient.
photo by Vanessa Tignanelli


EKOS Research Associates Inc. (2012). HIV/AIDS attitudinal tracking survey. Final report.

Phillips, K., Skelton, W. (2001). Effect of Individualized Acupuncture on Sleep Quality in HIV Disease, Journal of the Association of Nurses in Aids Care 12(1), 27-39.

Beal, M, Nield-Anderson, L. (2000). Acupuncture for symptom relief in HIV-positive adults: Lessons learned from a pilot study, Alternative Therapies, 6(5), 33-42.

Chang, B., Sommers, E. (2011). Acupuncture and the relaxation response for treating gastrointestinal symptoms in HIV patiens on highly active antiretroviral threapy, Aupuncture in Medicine, 29, 180-187.

Change, B., Boehmer, U., Zhao, Y, and Sommers, E. (2007).The Combined Effect of rElaxation REsponse and Acupuncture on Quality of Life in Patients with HIV: A Pilot Study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 13(8), 807-816.

Phillips, K., Skelton, W., and Hand, G. (2004). Effect of Acupuncture Administered in a Group Setting on Pain and Subjective Peripheral Neuropathy in Persons with Human Immunodeficiency Virus Disease, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 10(3), 449-455.


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