Learn about neurological problems caused by HIV
Although it is well known that HIV directly attacks certain cells of the immune system, which it destroys in order to replicate, it has also been observed that the infection can damage multiple organs and systems of the body.
The nervous system is one of the most affected by HIV, which greatly deteriorates the quality of life, since it is the complex network of cells that carry electrical impulses from the brain to all corners of the body, from those that we control at will, such as legs or arms, to those that work “automatically”, such as the heart or intestines.
The root of the problems
As explained by the website of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, one of the most prestigious not only in the United States, but in the world, HIV does not infect the cells of the nervous system, but it does cause significant inflammation. and generalized in the body. This inflammation, which occurs at the cellular level, can damage the spinal cord and brain, preventing nerve cells (neurons) from doing their job.
However, neurological complications in people with HIV are not only caused by the virus itself, but can also result from other HIV-related conditions or AIDS (the most serious stage of the infection), such as certain types of cancer.
In some cases, even antiretroviral drugs can cause some neurological damage as they try to contain the rapid spread of the virus. However, some genetic factors may influence the risk of treatment-related neurological side effects.
It is important to say that neurological complications directly caused by HIV are not common, rather they appear when someone has reached the stage of AIDS. Fortunately, with antiretroviral drugs, fewer and fewer people develop this severe phase.
Among the neurological problems that the virus can cause, the following stand out:
- Dementia. As HIV infection progresses, a problem called HIV-associated dementia or AIDS-associated dementia complex can develop. This disorder affects cognitive function, which is reflected in difficulties thinking, understanding and remembering. This type of dementia can be life-threatening.
- Viral infections of the nervous system. Because HIV weakens the immune system, it can leave your body vulnerable to infection by other viruses that directly affect the nervous system. For example, cytomegalovirus can affect cognitive functions, hearing, normal arm and leg movement, or toilet training. Another opportunistic virus is herpes, which can cause a herpes zoster (also known as shingles) rash, inflammation in the brain, or inflammation in the spinal cord.
- Fungal infections and parasites. One condition that can affect people with HIV is Cryptococci meningitis, which is inflammation of the meninges, the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord, due to a fungus. In the case of parasites, HIV can leave you open to toxoplasmosis, an infection that can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) that manifests itself with confusion, seizures, and very painful migraines. These two infections can also threaten the life of the sufferer.
- Neurosyphilis. If a person with HIV also has syphilis and does not receive the necessary treatment, this infection can progress rapidly and damage the nervous system. It can cause dysfunction of neurons and lead to loss of vision or hearing, as well as causing dementia and difficulty walking.
- Neuropathy. HIV can cause nerve damage throughout the body, resulting in severe pain or weakness, a condition known as neuropathy. This is more common in people with an advanced infection.
Fortunately, the aforementioned complications can be avoided if antiretroviral treatment is taken properly, as this will contain the virus and keep the immune system strong for much longer.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with HIV but has not started treatment, at AHF Latin America and the Caribbean we can help. We will accompany you in the process of linking to care, with which you will be able to receive the medications that will preserve your health and well-being. Just come to our offices in your country or write to us by Whatsapp and learn about all our services.