HIV and AIDS

What is Neurological Manifestations 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 impairing their proper function. HIV infection may cause damage to the brain and spinal cord, causing encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain), 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 may 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.

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Is there any treatment?

There is no cure for AIDS but recently developed, experimental treatments appear very promising. Some symptoms and complications may improve with treatment. For example, antidementia drugs may relieve confusion and slow mental decline. Infections may be treated with antibiotics. Radiation therapy may be needed to treat AIDS-related cancers present in the brain or spinal cord. Drug “cocktails” recommended to treat AIDS can cause neuropathy. Neurological complications of AIDS are often underrecognized by AIDS clinicians, so patients who suspect they are having neurological complications should be sure to discuss these with their doctor.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis for individuals with AIDS in recent years has improved significantly because of new drugs and treatments, and educational and preventive efforts.

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.

Natural Treatments

The body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients can be affected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in unexpected ways, according to medical experts. That’s why they maintain that each individual who is HIV-positive needs a battery of blood tests to define his exact nutritional state as well as regular consultation with an HIV nutrition specialist, who can work with the individual’s doctor to custom-tailor a nutritional plan to meet that person’s needs.

Based on evolving research, here are some general recommendations for daily nutrient consumption that experts suggest you and your HIV health practitioners consider.

Nutrients, Daily Amounts, and Applications

Medical Alert

  • If you are HIV-positive, you should be under a doctor’s care.
  • Folic acid in doses exceeding 400 micrograms daily should be taken only under your doctor’s supervision, as this vitamin can mask signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Doses of selenium in excess of 100 micrograms a day should be taken only under medical supervision.
  • Vitamin A has been linked to birth defects when taken during early pregnancy in doses of 10,000 international units daily. Women of childbearing age should consult their doctors before taking this much vitamin A. Women who are pregnant should not use this therapy.
  • You should check with your doctor before supplementing vitamin B12 if you have any kind of infection.
  • Vitamin D in doses exceeding 600 international units daily should be taken only under medical supervision.
  • If you are taking anticoagulant drugs, you should not take vitamin E supplements.
  • A study at Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore has found an association between zinc and the progression of HIV infection to AIDS. Do not take zinc supplements without first consulting your doctor.