Despite advances in antiretroviral treatment, people living with HIV infection (PLWH) in the United States continue to have a high symptom load. For a study, researchers sought to determine if the quantity and kinds of symptom clusters changed depending on whether the clusters were created using symptom incidence rates or distress ratings. The studies employed data from 2,000 patients with complete symptom incidence rates and distress scores on the 20-item HIV Symptom Index from their initial ambulatory clinic visit at one of six national HIV centers of excellence in the Center for AIDS Research Network of Integrated Clinical Systems. The symptom clusters were created using exploratory factor analysis.

Using incidence rates and distress ratings, the same four symptom clusters (gastrointestinal, psychological, pain, and body image) were discovered. The psychological, pain, and body image clusters all shared the same symptoms across all domains of symptom experience. Four symptoms loaded on the incidence dimension, and six symptoms loaded on the distress dimension for the gastrointestinal cluster.

The quantity and kinds of symptom clusters were generally comparable across the incidence and distress aspects of the symptom experience. Symptom clusters in PLWH may help establish focused therapies for various co-occurring symptoms.