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Managing Side Effects of HIV TreatmentManaging Side Effects of HIV Treatment
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Post diagnosis memory loss
Mar 21, 2004

My partner was diagnosed HIV+ near the end of December 2003. On January 11, 2004 he began getting very confused and losing his memory. For about 9 days he was behaving almost like an individual with Alzheimers. After about 9 days he began to come back to reality. He is unable to remember things from recent and distant past prior to the 9th day. He doesn't even remember having a relationship with me. He just knows that I'm a familiar person to him. Every doctor, neurologist, and therapist has said that its probably PTSD from his HIV diagnosis. I know that's common, but is striking 3 weeks to a month after the diagnosis common? It's now been over 1 month since the onset, will he ever remember who I am? He treats me like a stranger. Is hypnosis an option? Any information would be helpful. Thank you.

Response from Dr. Conway

I'm truly sorry to hear about this, and I'm not sure if I will be able to offer you a clear answer.

The issue here is either neurologic or psychiatric.

With acute/early HIV infection, there may be some meningitis or encephalitis that may cause symptoms similar to what you describe. However, this is usually limited in time to a few weeks at most. There are almost always abnormalities on the spinal tap (and/or CT scan or MRI) that can be picked up and that can point to this being the problem. It sounds as if this is not the case for you.

In more established infection, HIV can also affect the brain. However, there is almost always some sign that the neurologist can pick up that this is the case (again, on the spinal tap or appropriate X-ray). This does not seem to be the case either, although I would encourage you to speak to the neurologist at some length to make sure that this is the case.

Ruling out these medical things (that could respond to appropriate treatment for HIV), we are left with the mind being a strange thing. I do not like the term "PTSD". I think of it as a form of denial, in that the mind is not ready to deal with some event that is before it. My best advice is for you to find an expert in treating conditions such as this, establish a clear plan of care and follow it. I'm not an expert in this, but I have seen some remarkable recoveries over months or perhaps longer.

Good luck....

Antiretroviral hepatoxicity
Adherence Issues

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