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Evaluation of abdominal pain in the HIV-infected patient

C Mel Wilcox, MD
Section Editor
John G Bartlett, MD
Deputy Editor
Howard Libman, MD, FACP


The differential diagnosis of abdominal pain in patients with HIV can be related to opportunistic infections (CMV, MAC) in the setting of severe immunodeficiency, or may be due to other more common etiologies seen in the general population (eg, appendicitis, diverticulitis). The widespread adoption of antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been associated with a number of drug-induced side effects, including pancreatitis and the lactic acidosis syndrome, both of which are associated with abdominal pain [1,2].

An overview of the diagnosis of abdominal pain in patients with HIV will be presented here. Other gastrointestinal and hepatobiliary complications in these patients are discussed separately. (See "Evaluation of the HIV-infected patient with odynophagia and dysphagia" and "Evaluation of the HIV-infected patient with diarrhea" and "Evaluation of anorectal symptoms in men who have sex with men" and "Evaluation of the HIV-infected patient with hepatobiliary complaints".)


The incidence of gastrointestinal complaints, including abdominal pain, is not well established. Severe abdominal pain was observed in approximately 15 percent of HIV-infected patients and was associated with reduced survival prior to the introduction of potent antiretroviral therapy [3].


A few general rules are useful when evaluating gastrointestinal complaints in patients with AIDS:

Clinical signs and symptoms alone are rarely diagnostic.

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Literature review current through: Sep 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 18, 2015.
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