HIV/AIDS affects many of the body's organ systems, including the brain and nervous system. HIV makes its way to the brain early in the disease process. HIV encephalopathy is a condition that can result from the infection spreading in the brain and damaging it. It is one cause of dementia in people infected with HIV. The greater the damage from HIV infection in the brain, the worse the dementia symptoms can become.
AIDS dementia is also called AIDS dementia complex or HIV-associated dementia. It is a serious result of HIV infection. It is typically seen in advanced stages of the disease.
When HIV spreads to the brain, it results in encephalopathy. This is a disease that affects how the brain works. Encephalopathy causes dementia. The greater the spread of infection in the brain, the worse the damage and dementia symptoms become. People with HIV may also become infected with other germs such as cytomegalovirus, Cryptococcus, and toxoplasmosis. They can also develop cancer such as CNS lymphoma. Each of these infections or conditions can sometimes cause a decline in mental function very similar to that caused by HIV.
The following symptoms are among those seen with HIV-associated dementia:
The symptoms of HIV-associated dementia may look like other health conditions or problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
You will need an exam and evaluation to find out if you have dementia and how serious it is. Your healthcare provider will take your health history. You will also have an exam to look at your muscles, nerves, and senses. You may also need some of these tests:
Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment plan for you based on:
Treatment typically includes:
The slow loss of mental clarity and physical coordination can seriously reduce quality of life. Without treatment, HIV-associated dementia can be fatal.
People who take antiretroviral therapy are less likely to develop HIV-associated dementia. This is because the therapy helps control the virus and causes less damage to the brain. A milder form of cognitive impairment, called HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND), may still occur.
Depending on your level of dementia, you may need different therapies. HIV-associated dementia can gradually get worse. This is especially true if you are not taking antiretroviral therapy. If this happens, you will need more care to manage the disease over time.
If you notice changes in your ability to speak, focus, or concentrate, talk with your healthcare provider. These symptoms are common to other conditions, including other infections, depression, and nutritional deficiencies. Unusual shifts in mood or emotions and changes in social behavior also require a conversation with a healthcare provider. Best results are achieved with early diagnosis and treatment.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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