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Symptoms and Stages of HIV

HIV is a disease which affects both adults and children. The symptoms of HIV differ from one person to another and in some cases; no symptoms are visible for several years after the onset of the disease. Knowing the symptoms and stages of HIV can help in providing appropriate treatment.

Symptoms and Stages of HIV

Symptoms and Stages of HIV

Proper and timely treatment plays a vital role in the patient’s survival as without it, the virus worsens over time and damages the immune system completely. The body is unable to fight off any kind of infection or disease and slowly succumbs to the same. There are 3 major stages of HIV infection with each of them having different possible effects on the patient.

Know the symptoms and stages of HIV in details.

Stage 1 of HIV & Its Symptoms: Acute Primary Infection

In this stage of HIV, the patient does not show any of the symptoms of HIV right after getting infected with the virus. In most cases the symptoms of HIV begin to show much later. Around 3 to 6 weeks after you receive the virus, the immune system tries to fight it off which is known as primary HIV infection or acute retroviral syndrome.
During this stage of HIV, the symptoms are just as it is in most viral illnesses and many a times the patient confuses it with the flu. Such symptoms may last for 10 to 14 days and then vanish completely.

The symptoms of HIV in the first stage are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscles ache all the time
  • Throat become sore
  • Lymph nodes swell up
  • Mild fever
  • A red rash develops on the torso which does not itch

With recent advancement in the world of technology and medicine, doctors are now able to prevent HIV from controlling your body completely. However, this depends on the symptoms and stages of HIV and is possible during the initial stage of HIV, if acted upon immediately. For example, if you have been infected with HIV because you had unprotected sex with a HIV-positive patient then the use of anti-HIV drugs will protect you from falling prey to the disease.

However, for complete protection, the specified drugs must be consumed within 3 days of being exposed to the virus or the drugs will fail to work optimally. Also, it is important to know that such drugs have some severe and unpleasant side effects which will have to be dealt with separately. These are best advised by the treating physicians based on the symptoms and stages of HIV.

Stage 2 of HIV & Its Symptoms : Chronic HIV Infection

If the drugs are unable to protect you and the immune system fails to fight HIV, then the symptoms of HIV that you experience in the first stage go away. This is known as clinical or asymptomatic latent period. The symptoms of HIV can neither be seen by the patient nor felt and since you as a patient do not realize that you are infected by HIV, you might pass on the disease to others as well. In most cases, this stage of HIV lasts for a decade and even more.

In the second stage, the untreated HIV starts killing the T-cells or CD4 in the immune system and destroys it to a large extent. A normal person has around 450 to 1400 such T-cells per microliter but as HIV starts destroying it rapidly, the number decreases and your body starts becoming more and more vulnerable to a plethora of infections and diseases. You can get yourself checked with your doctor to find out how many such cells are remaining in the body. This is done by a simple blood test.

However, studies reveal that even in this stage of HIV, the infection can be controlled and prevented from progressing further. This can be done by taking the right combination of medicines which prevent the virus from spreading, help rebuild the immune system and also fight HIV strongly. Leading a healthy lifestyle and taking medications at the right time is the key to controlling the disease at this stage.

Stage 3 of HIV & Its Symptoms: AIDS

The last and most advanced stage of HIV infection is AIDS. The patient reaches this stage only when the number of CD4 or T-cells drops down to below 200. Patients can also be diagnosed with this stage if they are suffering from Kaposi’s sarcoma which is a type of skin cancer or a lung disease known as pneumocystis pneumonia. These diseases are known as AIDS defining illness.

The following symptoms will help you know that you are suffering from HIV even if you did not experience them in the earlier stages:

  • Feeling of being tired all the time
  • Lymph nodes in the groin or neck region become swollen
  • Fever lasts for more than a week
  • Sweating at night
  • Yeast infections develop in the vagina, throat or mouth
  • Diarrhea which is long-lasting and severe
  • Sudden unexplained weight loss
  • Purplish spots appear on the skin
  • Unexplained bleeding and bruises in any part of the body
  • Shortness of breath

AIDS, in fact is neither a disease nor a virus nor is it a syndrome of any kind. AIDS is diagnosed when a person exposed to HIV, starts developing a set of symptoms due to other severe diseases or infections. AIDS cannot be confirmed by any test nor can it be inherited. People having AIDS have lesser chances of survival and the severity of symptoms depend on their immunity.


As soon as you test positive for HIV and show AIDS-defining symptoms, it is imperative for you to visit your doctor and start the right treatment at the earliest. Proper and timely treatment can help recovery from HIV and AIDS related infections. This is why doctors advise all their patients to not miss any signs and get yourself tested as soon as you notice any symptoms of HIV. While the stages and symptoms of HIV determine the prognosis, timely treatment does help.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – HIV/AIDS https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/whatishiv.html
  2. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) – HIV/AIDS https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/hivaids

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 18, 2023

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