HIV/AIDS affects many of the body's organ systems, including the brain and nervous system. Most people don't know that the HIV infection actually makes its way to the brain early in the disease process. HIV encephalopathy is an infection that spreads throughout the brain. It is one cause of dementia in people infected with HIV. The greater the spread of infection in the brain, the worse the dementia symptoms become.
AIDS dementia is also called AIDS dementia complex or HIV-associated dementia. It is a serious consequence of HIV infection and is typically seen in advanced stages of the disease.
When HIV spreads to the brain, it results in encephalopathy (a disease which affects the brain's function), which causes dementia. The greater the spread of infection in the brain, the worse the dementia symptoms become. People with HIV may also become infected with other organisms (such as cytomegalovirus, Cryptococcus, and toxoplasmosis, and with cancer such as CNS lymphoma). Each of these infections or conditions can 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 medical conditions or problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Examination and evaluation are essential in determining the presence and extent of the dementia. Your healthcare provider will take your full medical history. You will also have an extensive neurological motor and sensory exam. Diagnostic tests for dementia may also include the following:
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 are using highly active antiretroviral therapy, known as HAART, are less likely to develop HIV-associated dementia. Experts think this may be because these medicines help maintain the overall immune system. A milder form of cognitive impairment, called HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder, or HAND, may still occur, though.
Depending on your level of dementia, different therapies may be required. HIV-associated dementia is a progressive condition. This means that it will continue to get worse, and the amount of care needed to manage the disease will increase 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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