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NINDS Disorders is an index of neurological conditions provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. This valuable tool offers detailed descriptions, facts on treatment and prognosis, and patient organization contact information for over 500 identified neurological disorders.

Neurology Patient Pages

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Neurological Complications of AIDS

AIDS is primarily an immune system disorder caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), but it can also affect the nervous system. HIV does not appear to directly invade nerve cells but it jeopardizes their health and function, causing symptoms such as confusion, forgetfulness, behavioral changes, headaches, progressive weakness and loss of sensation in the arms and legs, cognitive motor impairment, or damage to the peripheral nerves. Other complications that can occur as a result of HIV infection or the drugs used to treat it include pain, seizures, shingles, spinal cord problems, lack of coordination, difficult or painful swallowing, anxiety disorder, depression, fever, vision loss, gait disorders, destruction of brain tissue, and coma. Other AIDS-related nervous system disorders may be caused by certain cancers or by illnesses that would not otherwise affect people with healthy immune systems.Among the most common neurological complications are: AIDS dementia complex, causing symptoms such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), behavioral changes, and a gradual decline in cognitive function; central nervous system lymphomas, cancerous tumors that either begin in the brain or result from a cancer that has spread from another site in the body; cryptococcal meningitis; cytomegalovirus infections; herpes virus infections; neuropathy; neurosyphilis; progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML); and psychological and neuropsychiatric disorders.


No single treatment can cure the neurological complications of AIDS.  Some disorders require aggressive therapy while others are treated symptomatically.Medicines range from analgesics sold over the counter to antiepileptic drugs, opiates, corticosteroids, and some classes of antidepressants. Other treatments include radiation therapy or chemotherapy to kill or shrink cancerous brain tumors that may be caused by HIV, antifungal or antimalarial drugs to combat certain bacterial infections, and penicillin to treat neurosyphilis.  Aggressive antiretroviral therapy is used to treat AIDS dementia complex, PML, and cytomegalovirus encephalitis.  HAART, or highly active antiretroviral therapy, combines at least three drugs to reduce the amount of virus circulating in the blood and may also delay the start of some infections.


The overall prognosis for individuals with AIDS in recent years has improved significantly because of new drugs and treatments. AIDS clinicians often fail to recognize neurological complications of AIDS. Those who suspect they are having neurological complications should be sure to discuss these with their doctor.


Within the Federal government, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), one part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), supports research on the neurological consequences of AIDS.  The NINDS works closely with its sister agency, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which has primary responsibility for research related to HIV and AIDS.

View a list of studies currently seeking patients.

View more studies on this condition.

Read additional information from Medline Plus.


Neurologic AIDS Research Consortium

The Neurologic AIDS Research Consortium (NARC) is supported by the National Institutes of Health to design and carry out clinical trials to improve the therapy for HIV induced neurologic disease, and neurologic conditions associated with the AIDS virus. This consortium was established in 1993 when the NARC grant submitted by David B. Clifford, M.D. of Washington University School of Medicine was funded by the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) to establish the consortium. Since that time the grant has supported studies of the natural history of neurologic performance in advanced AIDS, treatment of HIV associated peripheral neuropathy, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, and cytomegalovirus.

Department of Neurology Washington School of Medicine Campus Box 8111
660 S. Euclid Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63110
Tel: 314-747-8423
Fax: 314-747-8427

Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation

Sponsors research programs, collaborative training initiatives, advocacy efforts, and international programs focused on pediatric AIDS and other serious and life-threatening diseases affecting children.

1140 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-296-9165 888-499-HOPE (-4673)
Fax: 202-296-9185

amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Non-profit organization dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy.

120 Wall Street
13th Floor
New York, NY 10005-3908
Tel: 212-806-1600
Fax: 212-806-1601

National Association of People with AIDS

Advocates on behalf of all people living with HIV and AIDS. Disbanded in late 2013

8401 Colesville Road
Suite 505
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Tel: 240-247-0880 or 866-846-9366
Fax: 240-247-0574

National NeuroAIDS Tissue Consortium

Provides tissue for AIDS-related research through a banking network of centers.

401 N. Washington Street
Suite 700
Rockville, MD 20850
Tel: 866-668-2272 301-251-1161 ext. 186
Fax: 301-576-4597

National Prevention Information Network

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DHHS
P.O. Box 6003
Rockville, MD 20849-6003
Tel: 301-562-1098 800-458-5231
Fax: 888-282-7681

NIAID Office of Communications and Government Relations

National Institutes of Health, DHHS
5601 Fishers Lane, MSC 9806
Bethesda, MD 20892
Tel: 301-496-5717

AIDSInfo (AIDS Information Service)

P.O. Box 4780
Rockville, MD 20849-6303
Tel: 800-HIV-0440 (448-0440) TTY: 888-480-3739
Fax: 301-315-2818

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