HIV, AIDS and Epilepsy – Can it Cause Seizures?

17th August 2021

Epilepsy can develop for many reasons, some people are born with it, whereas others will develop it later on in life. One such reason a person might develop epilepsy is through viral infection, such as meningitis, encephalitis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). 

Up to 70% of HIV patients will develop some form of neurological complication. These complications can be extremely diverse and include seizure activity where there was none prior to infection. The American Academy of Neurology estimates that around 11% of people with HIV will also have seizures at some point in their lives. 

In summary, HIV can cause seizures, including status epilepticus. 

How does HIV cause seizures? 

If you have been diagnosed with HIV and subsequently started to have seizures, then the most likely explanation is that this is due to brain lesions (scarring and damage) that are caused by HIV. 

HIV can affect the immune system if left untreated, which can lead to other diseases, such as meningitis, which can also cause brain injury and lead to seizures. 

However, it’s entirely possible that the two illnesses are not connected and people with HIV could develop epilepsy for a number of other reasons, such as head trauma / injuries and genetics. 

Treatment for Epilepsy and HIV

Treating both epilepsy and HIV can be challenging. Most people with HIV will require antiretroviral (ARV) medication to suppress the virus, whereas people with epilepsy will require anti-seizure medication (AEDs) to help control their seizures. 

The issue is that these two types of medications can interact with each other and have adverse effects or result in one being less effective than it should be. 

Fortunately, there are some combinations or ARVs and AEDs that work well together and allow both medications to work effectively. Finding this combination will be something your neurologist should help to achieve. 

Living with HIV / AIDs and epilepsy

Living with both HIV / AIDS and epilepsy can be challenging. The main variable to consider is the severity of the epilepsy and seizures. Luckily, with modern medicine and treatment options, HIV can be kept at bay in the majority of cases. 

There’s also a good chance that the seizures experienced can be managed through the available treatment options, meaning that someone with HIV / AIDs and epilepsy has a good chance of leading a relatively normal life. 

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