The indications and value of lymph node biopsy in patients infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are not clearly defined. We reviewed 29 consecutive lymph node biopsies performed on 24 patients with the HIV over a 4-year period. Indications for biopsy included: (1) new or worsening medical symptoms with no detectable etiology in patients with lymphadenopathy, (2) disproportionately larger or enlarging lymph node in patients with generalized adenopathy, and (3) exclusion of concomitant disease in patients with previously defined infectious or neoplastic processes. The biopsy samples exhibited a diversity of histologic appearances including atypical and reactive hyperplasia, malignancy, and infection. Nineteen biopsies (64%) resulted in the institution or alteration of treatment. The absolute number of T-helper cells prior to biopsy was significantly lower in patients with a diagnosis of malignancy or infection (p < 0.05), as well as in those who eventually died (p < 0.05). Four (14%) minor complications resulted from lymph node biopsy. Based on our results, we conclude that lymph node biopsy is indicated in the above three subsets of HIV-infected patients. Biopsy can be performed with minimal morbidity and significantly alters therapy in the majority of patients.
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