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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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HIV and AIDS Dementia

AIDS Dementia Exams and Tests

In a person who's known to have HIV infection, cognitive, behavioral, or motor symptoms suggests that the person has ADC. It's important to consider, however, other possible causes of these symptoms, such as metabolic disorders, infections, degenerative brain diseases, stroke, tumor, and many others. Your health care provider will carry out an evaluation to determine the cause of your symptoms. This will likely include a medical interview, physical and mental status exams, CT or MRI scans, neuropsychological testing, and, possibly, a spinal tap.

Imaging Studies

CT scan and MRI may detect changes in the brain that support the diagnosis of AIDS dementia complex. Brain changes in ADC worsen over time, so these studies may be repeated periodically. Importantly, these scans help rule out other potentially treatable conditions such as infection, stroke, and brain tumor.

A CT scan or an MRI gives a detailed, 3-dimensional picture of the brain. These scans can show brain atrophy (shrinkage) that is consistent with ADC as well as changes in the appearance of different parts of the brain.

Lab Tests

No lab test confirms the diagnosis of AIDS dementia complex. If you have lab tests, they serve to rule out conditions that might cause similar symptoms. You may have blood drawn for multiple tests.

Your health care provider may test your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This clear fluid is made in normal cavities in the brain called ventricles, which are seen on a CT scan or an MRI. The fluid surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It cushions and protects these structures and may distribute both beneficial and harmful substances. CSF can be tested for various abnormalities that are related to dementia symptoms. A sample of the CSF is obtained with a lumbar puncture, also called a spinal tap. This procedure involves removal of a sample of CSF from the spinal canal in the lower back.


For electroencephalography (EEG), a series of electrodes are attached to the scalp. The electrical activity of the brain is read and recorded. In the later stages of ADC, the electrical activity (which appears as waves) is slower than normal. EEG also is used to see whether a person is having seizures.

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