NINDS Neurological Complications of AIDS Information Page

Date: July 1, 2001
Source: National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Author: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)

What are 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.

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.


Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
2950 31st Street
Suite 125
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Tel: 310-314-1459 888-499-HOPE (-4673)
Fax: 310-314-1469

American Foundation for AIDS Research
120 Wall Street
13th Floor
New York, New York 10005-3902
Tel: 212-806-1600
Fax: 212-806-1601

National Association of People with AIDS
1413 K Street, NW
7th Floor
Washington, DC 20005-3442
Tel: 202-898-0414 ext. 124
Fax: 202-898-0435

National NeuroAIDS Tissue Consortium
1050 Forest Hill Road
Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel: 800-510-1678
Fax: 718-494-5347

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) National Prevention Information Network
P.O. Box 6003
Rockville, MD 20849-6003
Tel: 301-562-1098; 800-458-5231

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
National Institutes of Health
31 Center Drive, Rm. 7A50 MSC 2520
Bethesda, MD 20892-2520
(see website)
Tel: 301-496-5717


Related NINDS Publications and Information

- Health Disparities Planning Panel on NeuroAIDS in Minority Populations Report of the Health Disparities Planning Panel on NeuroAIDS in Minority Populations meeting held July 16, 2001.

NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Provided by:
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892