AIDS and the Brain

Several health complications are caused by AIDS, and the brain and nervous system can be affected with problems like meningitis, brain or nerve damage, and stroke. Some neurological complications may improve with treatment. For example, infections can be treated with antibiotics, and radiation therapy may help treat AIDS and brain or spinal cord cancers. However, some complications are more difficult to treat.

AIDS and the Brain: An Overview

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the result of an infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This virus attacks selected cells of the immune, nervous, and other systems and impairs their proper function.
HIV infection may cause a number of problems in the brain and nervous system, including:
  • Damage to the brain
  • Damage to the spinal cord by way of encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain)
  • Nerve damage
  • Difficulties in thinking
  • Behavioral changes
  • Poor circulation
  • Headache
  • Stroke.
AIDS-related cancers, such as lymphoma, and opportunistic infections may also affect the nervous system. Neurological symptoms may be mild in the early stages of the disease, but can become severe in the final stages. Complications vary widely from one patient to another.
Cerebral toxoplasmosis, a common opportunistic infection in AIDS patients, causes symptoms such as:
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Low-grade fever
  • Weakness
  • Speech disturbance
  • Ataxia (loss of muscle control)
  • Apraxia (inability of a person to perform voluntary and skillful movements)
  • Seizures
  • Sensory loss.
Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a disorder that can also occur in patients with AIDS, causes:
  • Weakness
  • Hemiparesis or facial weakness
  • Dysphasia (trouble with speech)
  • Vision loss
  • Ataxia.
Some patients with PML may also develop problems with their memory and ability to think clearly.

AIDS Information

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