Today is World AIDS Day. In the United States, over 1.2 million adults have HIV, and more than 50% of those with AIDS also suffer from neurological complications related to HIV. Although many neurological complications don’t set in until advanced stages of HIV, it’s important for clinicians, patients, and caretakers to be aware of the neurological risks associated with HIV and how to treat or manage those conditions.
Although the virus does not seem to directly invade nerve cells, inflammation can cause damage to the brain and spinal cord leading to behavioral changes, headaches, weakness, loss of sensation in limbs, confusion, and forgetfulness. HIV may also affect the size of certain brain structures linked to learning and information processing.
Neurological complications of AIDS include:
- AIDS dementia complex (ADC) or HIV-associated dementia (HAD)
- central nervous system lymphomas
- cryptococcal meningitis
- herpes zoster virus
- progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML)
- toxoplasma encephalitis
- vacuolar myelopathy
- and various psychological and neuropsychiatric disorders
Immune system suppression puts many people with HIV, both treated and untreated, at risk for complications; however, aggressive antiretroviral therapies are effective in treating many AIDS-related neurological conditions.
For those living with HIV, it is imperative they gain access to and stay with HIV medical care in order to achieve viral suppression, which can improve health, increase life expectancy, and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
The CDC recommends that everyone aged 13 to 64 years receive annual HIV screening. Rapid testing and home testing kits make this more possible than ever, along with new methods of HIV prevention including pre-exposure prophylaxis and post-exposure prophylaxis.
For more information on how the CDC is working to achieve an AIDS-free generation globally, click here.
- Neurological complications of AIDS fact sheet. National Institutes of Health. Last updated June 11, 2014. Available here: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/aids/detail_aids.htm
- World AIDS day 2014. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last updated November 26, 2014. Available here: http://www.cdc.gov/features/worldaidsday/