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Neurological Complications of AIDS

Description

AIDS is primarily an immune system disorder caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), but it can also affect the nervous system. HIV does not appear to directly invade nerve cells but it jeopardizes their health and function, causing symptoms such as confusion, forgetfulness, behavioral changes, headaches, progressive weakness and loss of sensation in the arms and legs, cognitive motor impairment, or damage to the peripheral nerves. Other complications that can occur as a result of HIV infection or the drugs used to treat it include pain, seizures, shingles, spinal cord problems, lack of coordination, difficult or painful swallowing, anxiety disorder, depression, fever, vision loss, gait disorders, destruction of brain tissue, and coma. Other AIDS-related nervous system disorders may be caused by certain cancers or by illnesses that would not otherwise affect people with healthy immune systems.

Among the most common neurological complications are: AIDS dementia complex, causing symptoms such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), behavioral changes, and a gradual decline in cognitive function; central nervous system lymphomas, cancerous tumors that either begin in the brain or result from a cancer that has spread from another site in the body; cryptococcal meningitis; cytomegalovirus infections; herpes virus infections; neuropathy; neurosyphilis; progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML); and psychological and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Treatment

No single treatment can cure the neurological complications of AIDS.  Some disorders require aggressive therapy while others are treated symptomatically. Medicines range from analgesics sold over the counter to antiepileptic drugs, opiates, corticosteroids, and some classes of antidepressants. Other treatments include radiation therapy or chemotherapy to kill or shrink cancerous brain tumors that may be caused by HIV, antifungal or antimalarial drugs to combat certain bacterial infections, and penicillin to treat neurosyphilis.  Aggressive antiretroviral therapy is used to treat AIDS dementia complex, PML, and cytomegalovirus encephalitis.  HAART, or highly active antiretroviral therapy, combines at least three drugs to reduce the amount of virus circulating in the blood and may also delay the start of some infections.

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.

Research

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), one part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), supports research on the neurological consequences of AIDS.  The NINDS works closely with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which has primary responsibility for research related to HIV and AIDS. Several NINDS-funded projects are studying the role of virally infected brain macrophages (cells that normally work to protect against infection) in causing disease in the central nervous system of adult macaques.  The focus of these projects includes gene analyses and the study of key neuroimmune regulatory molecules that are turned on in the brain during the course of viral infection at levels that have been shown to be toxic.  Other researchers are developing animal models of the disease, which helps in understanding disease mechanisms and may lead to new treatments in humans. Information from the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlusLiving with HIV/AIDS

amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Address:
120 Wall Street
13th Floor
New York, NY 10005-3908

Website: http://www.amfar.org
Phone: 212-806-1600
Fax: 212-806-1601

Non-profit organization dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy.

Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation

Address:
1140 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036

Website: http://www.pedaids.org
Phone: 202-296-9165
Fax: 202-296-9185

Sponsors research programs, collaborative training initiatives, advocacy efforts, and international programs focused on pediatric AIDS and other serious and life-threatening diseases affecting children.

National NeuroAIDS Tissue Consortium

Address:
401 N. Washington Street
Suite 700
Rockville, MD 20850

Website: https://nntc.org/
Phone: 866-668-2272; 301-251-1161 (x186)
Fax: 301-576-4597

Provides tissue for AIDS-related research through a banking network of centers.

National Prevention Information Network

Address:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DHHS
P.O. Box 6003
Rockville, MD 20849-6003

Website: http://www.cdcnpin.org
Phone: 301-562-1098; 800-458-5231
Fax: 888-282-7681



Information sourced through CNF’s partnership with The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), US National Institutes of Health.