When you first become infected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the symptoms tend to be very mild, causing people to dismiss them easily. However, if you are HIV-positive, then even without experiencing the symptoms, it is still possible for you to pass on the virus to others. Many times it happens that women may experience different HIV symptoms than those seen in men. While many of the symptoms are the same in both men and women, but there are some symptoms that differ between them as well. Knowing and identifying these symptoms on time will help you get treated and prevent the infection from progressing to AIDS.
5 Common Symptoms of HIV in Women
Here are some of the common symptoms of HIV in women.
Early Stage Flu-like Symptoms
In the early days, once you contract HIV, the next couple of days, you will remain symptom-less. After two to four weeks of contracting HIV, many people experience mild flu-like symptoms. This is common to both men and women. (1) These flu-like symptoms include:
These initial symptoms will disappear within a couple of weeks. In some cases, though, people may not experienced any symptoms for nearly a decade, and then experience severe symptoms of HIV infection.
Swollen Lymph Nodes
The lymph nodes get affected when you get infected by HIV. The lymph glands are located throughout the body and are present in the back of the head, neck, groin, and armpits. The lymph nodes are part of the body’s immune system and help fight off infections by filtering out pathogens.
As the HIV infection spreads throughout the body, the immune system gets activated and tries to fight back against the disease. As a result of this, your lymph nodes become enlarged, a condition that is commonly referred to as swollen glands.
This is usually one of the first symptoms of HIV in women. If you are already living with HIV, then you may notice that the swollen glands may continue to last for several months.(2)
Rashes and Sores
Most women with HIV will experience some type of skin problem. Skin rashes and skin sores are another common symptom of HIV, and there are many different types of rashes that are commonly known to occur in people infected with HIV. They can be pink, red, brown, or purple in color. These rashes are an identifiable symptom of HIV or may even indicate a concurrent infection due to HIV.(3)
If you develop a rash, then it is a good idea to get it checked from the doctor along with a detailed physical checkup. Also, let your doctor know your medical history as that can be used to understand which diagnostic tests you need to undergo.
Skin lesions or sores may also occur on the genitals, skin of the mouth, and anus in some people with HIV infection. With proper treatment, these skin problems will become less severe and disappear over time.
HIV and Opportunistic Infections
Once you contract HIV, the virus starts damaging your immune system, making you more susceptible to catching other infections. Due to the damage caused to your immune system, it becomes easy to catch other opportunistic infections.
Some of these common infections may include tuberculosis, pneumonia, oral thrush, or vaginal candidiasis. Yeast infections, also a type of vaginal candidiasis, as well as bacterial infections, also become more common in women who are HIV-positive. In HIV infected women, it becomes more challenging to treat these infections as well.(4)
It has generally been observed that people with HIV are more susceptible to getting infections in the following areas:
- Digestive tract
- Genital area
Even common illnesses such as the flu become difficult to treat if you have HIV.
Taking antiretroviral medications and following the doctor’s treatment plan can help you achieve viral suppression, which significantly reduces the risk of HIV-women catching opportunistic infections.
It is also essential to take other necessary precautions, such as frequent hand washing and covering your mouth while coughing or sneezing.
Many women with HIV may notice sudden changes in their menstrual cycle. Some may start having lighter periods, while others may see an increase in flow. If you are also experiencing rapid weight loss due to HIV, then it is common to miss periods as well.
Additionally, the hormonal fluctuations that happen due to HIV can lead to other menstrual symptoms to get worse or better. These may include abdominal cramps, breast tenderness, fatigue, and other common symptoms you usually experience during your periods.
HIV symptoms in women can often be confused with those of other diseases. For example, the early signs of HIV infection are very similar to the signs of the flu. Women are also more likely than men to experience other HIV symptoms during the later stages as well, including frequent vaginal yeast infections.
If you have a doubt that you may have caught HIV, then you should not waste any time and get yourself tested immediately. Consult a doctor at the earliest because the earlier HIV infection is detected, the easier it is to stop the disease from progressing to AIDS. There are many treatments available for HIV today to help people manage and control their symptoms. There are many medications that help prevent the progression of the virus into AIDS.
- HIV.gov. (2020). Symptoms of HIV. [online] Available at: https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/symptoms-of-hiv [Accessed 13 Feb. 2020].
- Lederman, M.M. and Margolis, L., 2008, June. The lymph node in HIV pathogenesis. In Seminars in immunology (Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 187-195). Academic Press.
- Anon, (2020). HIV/AIDS and Skin Conditions. [online] Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hiv-and-aids/hivaids-and-skin-conditions [Accessed 13 Feb. 2020].
- Benson, C.A., Brooks, J.T., Holmes, K.K., Kaplan, J.E., Masur, H. and Pau, A., 2009. Guidelines for prevention and treatment opportunistic infections in HIV-infected adults and adolescents; recommendations from CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and the HIV Medicine Association/Infectious Diseases Society of America.
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