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Dementia Due to HIV Infection

Facts on Dementia Due to HIV Infection

Decline in mental processes is a common complication of HIV infection (and many other conditions).

  • Although the specific symptoms vary from person to person, they may be part of a single disorder known as AIDS dementia complex, or ADC. Other names for ADC are HIV-associated dementia and HIV/AIDS encephalopathy.
  • Common symptoms include decline in thinking, or “cognitive,” functions such as memory, reasoning, judgment, concentration, and problem solving.
  • Other common symptoms are changes in personality and behavior, speech problems, and motor (movement) problems, such as clumsiness and poor balance.
  • When these symptoms are severe enough to interfere with everyday activity, a diagnosis of dementia may be warranted.

AIDS dementia complex typically occurs as CD4+ count falls to less than 200 cells/microliter. It may be the first sign of AIDS. With the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), the frequency of ADC has declined from 30-60% of people infected with HIV to less than 20%. HAART may not only prevent or delay the onset of AIDS dementia complex in people with HIV infection, it can also improve mental function in people who already have ADC.

What Causes Dementia Due to HIV Infection?

AIDS dementia complex is caused by the HIV virus itself, not by the opportunistic infections that occur commonly in the course of the disease. We do not know exactly how the virus damages brain cells.

HIV may affect the brain through several mechanisms. Viral proteins may damage nerve cells directly or by infecting inflammatory cells in the brain and spinal cord. HIV may then induce these cells to damage and disable nerve cells.

Last Reviewed 1/4/2018
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