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Top HIV Symptoms in Women

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Over one million Americans are living with HIV.[1] Not only that, but HIV can affect anyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. With that said, women accounted for 19% of all HIV diagnoses in the United States.[1]

Common HIV/AIDS Symptoms in Women

There are also some specific HIV symptoms in women that would not affect men, including:

    • Increased frequency of vaginal yeast infections
    • Abnormal menstrual cycles
    • An increased risk of cervical cancer
  • A pregnant woman may potentially pass HIV on to her baby

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See also: HIV symptoms in men

How Does HIV Affect Pregnancy?

For women that are pregnant, HIV can cause other complications. The virus can be transmitted from a mother to her child during childbirth. This can also happen while breastfeeding. The risk of transmission from mother to child can lessen through careful treatment during pregnancy,[2] but only if the woman is aware that the virus is present.[3]

Common Symptoms in Both Men and Women

In general, the HIV infection follows a similar pattern in men and women. These often show in three stages:[4]

    • Acute illness: This may or may not occur. If it does, it will usually occur soon after exposure to the infection.
    • Asymptomatic period: This is a significantly longer phase. Like the name says, HIV carriers will not experience any symptoms. This period of time can last ten years or more.
  • Advanced infection: In this late phase of infection, carriers will experience a highly weakened immune system. This is the stage that makes you susceptible to a number of other illnesses that are tougher for HIV to combat.
Phase 1: Acute Illness

It may take a couple of weeks for HIV Symptoms in Women to become visible during this initial phase. For 80% of infected people, the first symptoms appear within two-to-four weeks and often resemble the flu.[5]

These symptoms may include:

  • body rash
  • fever
  • sore throat
  • severe headaches
  • fatigue
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • ulcers in the mouth or on the genitals
  • muscle aches and joint pain
  • vaginal infections, such as yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis
  • nausea and vomiting
  • night sweats

Of course, that’s assuming the symptoms are even visible at all. Many people with HIV may not see symptoms for several years. The only way to truly know for sure whether or not you have HIV is to get tested.

Phase 2: Asymptomatic Period

Once the first phase ends, the initial symptoms will completely disappear. During this seemingly dormant stage, the virus is actually replicating within your body. Though you don’t feel sick, the virus is still actively weakening your immune system.

This deceptive nature of HIV is a key reason why regular STD testing is imperative.

Phase 3: Advanced Infection

During the last stage of the infection, your immune system is severely damaged. Standard “run of the mill” illnesses can now become life threatening. With a weakened immune system, you may notice that you frequently get colds, flus, and fungal infections and have a harder time fighting them off.

If you’ve detected the infection by this point, treatment will greatly improve your ability to live a normal lifestyle.[6]

During this stage, you might experience the following AIDS symptoms:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • rapid weight loss
  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • chills
  • night sweats
  • rashes, sores, or lesions
  • swelling of the lymph nodes in the armpits, groin, or neck
  • memory loss, confusion, or neurological disorders

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More Information About HIV:
What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This is the infamous virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. HIV attacks the body’s immune system, damaging the carrier’s ability to fight off infections.[7] This infection can be passed from person to person through contact with infected bodily fluids. This includes blood, semen, and vaginal fluids.

A common cause of the virus is unprotected sex with an infected partner. According to the CDC, 87% of HIV diagnoses in women were attributed to heterosexual sex. The other 13% were attributed to intravenous drug use.[1]

Unlike other viruses, the human body cannot fully get rid of HIV. This means that once you have HIV, you have it for life. Fortunately, with proper treatment and medical care, HIV can be monitored and controlled so that those who have the virus can live a happy and healthy life. This requires that they are vigilant about their symptoms and treatments.

The Best Prevention

Using a condom during any sex act isn’t foolproof, but it can seriously reduce the possibility of contracting or spreading STDs and HIV.[8][9]

Getting tested is the only way to know whether or not you have HIV. The CDC recommends that all adults, from ages 13 to 64, should be screened for the virus.[10] You can order an at-home HIV testing package from myLAB Box. These tests offer lab-certified results that can be checked discreetly online.

See also: Safe is Sexy: Guide to HIV Testing

There isn’t a cure for HIV; however, getting treatment early can slow the progression of the disease and significantly improve quality of life. A recent study found that people with HIV might have a near-normal life expectancy,[6] as long as they begin treatment before their immune systems are too severely damaged.

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Reviewed by Luis Ferdinand M. Papa, MD, MHA

References

  1. [1] The CDC’s report from 2015 found one million Americans were infected. Of those one million, 19% were women. Heterosexual contact accounted for 87% of HIV diagnoses among women. Injection drug use accounted for 12%.

    HIV among women . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention July 2018.

  2. [2] Pregnant women with HIV receive HIV medicines during pregnancy and childbirth to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

    Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV. National Institutes of Health. May 2018.

  3. [3] Study found that the perinatal HIV transmission rate was 20% when the mother did not receive any prenatal therapy. HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) reduced the HIV transmission rate to 1.2%.

    Ellen R. Cooper, Manhattan Charurat, Lynne Mofenson, et al. Combination Antiretroviral Strategies for the Treatment of Pregnant HIV-1–Infected Women and Prevention of Perinatal HIV-1 Transmission. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 2002.

  4. [4] When people get HIV and don’t receive treatment, they will typically progress through three stages of disease.

    About HIV/AIDS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. October 2018.

  5. [5] A total of 72 (80%) patients had signs or symptoms associated with Acute HIV Infection that occurred within 2 weeks before undergoing testing.

    Hoenigl M, Green N, Camacho M. Signs or Symptoms of Acute HIV Infection in a Cohort Undergoing Community-Based Screening. Emerging Infectious Diseases 2016.

  6. [6] A study examined changes in 3 year survival and life expectancy of patients starting combination antiretroviral therapy between 1996 and 2013.

    The Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration. Survival of HIV-positive patients starting antiretroviral therapy between 1996 and 2013: a collaborative analysis of cohort studies. The Lancet. May 2017.

  7. [7] The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a major site of HIV replication. It is also the main structural and immunological barrier against bacteria from outside the body. HIV infection attacks the cells that form this mucosal barrier, resulting in a compromised immune system.

    Brenchley JM, Douek DC. HIV infection and the gastrointestinal immune system. Mucosal Immunology. December 2007

  8. [8] Accumulated data on condom use and HIV infection revealed that consistent use of male condoms protect against HIV acquisition (50% to 100%).

    Cates W. How much do condoms protect against sexually transmitted diseases?. IPPF Medical Bulletin 1997.

  9. [9] Review determined that consistent condom use for all intercourse decreased HIV seroconversion (transmission) by 80% but did not completely eliminate transmission.

    Susan C Weller, Karen Davis‐Beaty. Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission. Cochrane Systematic Review. January 2002.

  10. [10] CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care.

    Testing. Cochrane Systematic Review. October 2018.

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