Article: Neurological Complications of AIDS Information Page

What is Neurological Complications of AIDS?

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 damage to the brain and spinal cord via encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain). It can also cause nerve damage, difficulties in thinking (i.e., AIDS dementia complex), behavioral changes, poor circulation, headache, and stroke. AIDS-related cancers such as lymphoma and opportunistic infections (OI) may also affect the nervous system. Neurological symptoms may be mild in the early stages of AIDS, but can become severe in the final stages. Complications vary widely from one patient to another. Cerebral toxoplasmosis, a common OI in AIDS patients, causes such symptoms as headache, confusion, lethargy, and low-grade fever. Other symptoms may include weakness, speech disturbance, ataxia, apraxia, seizures, and sensory loss. Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a disorder that can also occur in AIDS patients, causes weakness, hemiparesis or facial weakness, dysphasia, vision loss, and ataxia. Some patients with PML may also develop compromised memory and cognition.

Is there any treatment?

There is no cure for AIDS but recently developed treatments help to slow the progression of the disease. Some neurological symptoms and complications may improve with treatment. For example, antidementia drugs may relieve confusion and slow mental decline. Infections can be treated with antibiotics. Radiation therapy may be needed to treat AIDS-related cancers present in the brain or spinal cord.

What is the prognosis?

The overall prognosis for individuals with AIDS in recent years has improved significantly because of new drugs and treatments. AIDS clinicians often fail to recognize neurological complications of AIDS. Those who suspect they are having neurological complications should be sure to discuss these with their doctor.

What research is being done?

The NINDS supports a broad spectrum of basic and clinical research studies on the neurological complications of AIDS. Much of this research is conducted at leading biomedical research institutions across the country.

Select this link to view a list of studies currently seeking patients.


Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
2950 31st Street
Suite 125
Santa Monica, CA   90405
Tel: 310-314-1459 888-499-HOPE (-4673)
Fax: 310-314-1469

American Foundation for AIDS Research
120 Wall Street
13th Floor
New York, New York   10005-3902
Tel: 212-806-1600
Fax: 212-806-1601

National Association of People with AIDS
1413 K Street, NW
7th Floor
Washington, DC   20005-3442
Tel: 202-898-0414
Fax: 202-898-0435

National NeuroAIDS Tissue Consortium
401 N. Washington Street
Suite 700
Rockville, MD   20850
Tel: 800-510-1678 301-251-1161 ext. 186
Fax: 301-251-1355

National Prevention Information Network
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DHHS
P.O. Box 6003
Rockville, MD   20849-6003
Tel: 301-562-1098 800-458-5231
Fax: 888-282-7681

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
6610 Rockledge Drive, MSC 6612
Bethesda, MD   20892-6612
Tel: 301-496-5717

AIDSInfo (AIDS Information Service)
P.O. Box 6303
Rockville, MD   20849-6303
Tel: 301-519-0459 800-HIV-0440 (448-0440) TTY: 888-480-3739
Fax: 301-519-6616


Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Cache Date: December 16, 2004