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Early HIV Signs & Symptoms in Women

It is important to recognize early HIV symptoms in women. The earlier you get tested and can begin treatment, the better. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is an incurable virus that weakens your immune system and is spread through some bodily fluids like semen and blood. HIV can also spread from mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. When left untreated, it can cause health complications and develop into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), a disease that leaves you at risk of getting an increasing number of severe illnesses.

Three Stages of HIV

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over one million Americans are living with HIV. That said, HIV often does not show any symptoms. In this case, it is unlikely that you will realize that you have the virus unless you get tested. If HIV symptoms do show, many affect women and men similarly. The virus presents itself in three stages.

  • Acute illness: This stage, if it occurs, will usually take place relatively soon after exposure to HIV. Signs and symptoms of the virus can occur within 2 to 4 weeks after infection and may experience flu-like symptoms. This includes signs and symptoms such as fever, severe headaches and muscle aches, night sweats, rash, sore throat, or swollen lymph nodes.
  • Asymptomatic period: This stage, also known as clinical latency, may last for years following the first stage of HIV infection. As the name suggests, the HIV infection may not typically display any symptoms during this time. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that the virus isn’t hard at work actively weakening your immune system.
  • Advanced infection: By this point, the HIV infection progresses to AIDS. The individual is now more susceptible to a number of other serious illnesses. This is due to a  weakened immune system that the virus has been attacking over a long period of time. It will be more difficult for your body to fight off these illnesses and combat the virus. This stage can lead to worsened health issues, including AIDS. These conditions may include swelling of the lymph nodes, shortness of breath, drastic weight loss, memory loss, neurological disorders and more.

Early HIV Symptoms in Women

According to the CDC¹, 87% of HIV diagnoses in women are due to heterosexual sex with someone who was infected with the virus. The other 13% of infections were due to intravenous drug use. Now you know a bit more about the three stages of HIV that affect men and women. Let’s talk about the early HIV Symptoms in women.

In women, as in men, signs and symptoms of the virus can occur within 2 to 4 weeks after infection and may experience flu-like symptoms. This includes during this phase may resemble the flu, with signs and symptoms such as fever, severe headaches and muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, night sweats, or body rashes sore throat, or swollen lymph nodes.

In addition, HIV poses a greater risk for women who are pregnant.  In these cases, HIV can cause other complications. For instance, the virus may be passed onto a pregnant woman’s unborn child. An infected mother can also spread HIV to her baby through breastfeeding. With treatment, these risks can be minimized or eliminated. To be clear, an HIV-positive woman can still give birth to a healthy HIV-negative child with the proper treatment prior to delivery.

HIV and Preventive Treatment

Using a condom during any sex act should be your first line of defense against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and diseases. As we all know, condoms aren’t perfect.  Fortunately, if you are HIV negative, a daily Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP) pill is another way to prevent the spread of HIV.  When taken properly, this pill can significantly reduce your risk of contracting HIV. Often, it is taken by people who are in a relationship with someone who is HIV-positive or at high risk of contracting HIV. You can learn more about PrEP and HIV in our previous article on the topic.

Get Tested for HIV Early

If early HIV symptoms in women are present, just like in men, it is a good idea to get tested right away. However, it is important to remember that HIV does not always show signs or symptoms. If you are sexually active, you should be tested regardless. Luckily, there is an easy and convenient way to test from home!  Here’s how it works:

    • Order:  Order your HIV test online. It will arrive in 1-3 days in a discreet package. You may want to consider a combination panel kit, which allows you to screen for multiple infections at once. These include the 5-panel Safe Box, 8-panel Uber Box, the Love Box for you and your partner to test together, and the comprehensive 14-panel Total Box.
    • Test: It only takes about 5 minutes to use your test. This can be done at any time and from any place.
    • Return: Send your sample back to the lab. We even provide a pre-paid addressed return envelope.
  • Get Results. Your lab-certified results will soon be available online!

Now you can better recognize early HIV symptoms in women and men. This will better prepare you to identify any problematic health signs you may experience. That said, the best thing you can do for your sexual health is to get tested. It’s the only way to know for sure that you know your status! Don’t stress, just test.

¹CDC stats: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/ataglance.html

Reviewed by Luis Ferdinand M. Papa, MD, MHA

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