Early symptoms of HIV may be mild and easily dismissed. But even without noticeable symptoms, an HIV-positive person can still pass the virus on to others. That’s one of the many reasons why it’s important for people to know their HIV status. Women may wonder how HIV symptoms for them differ from those seen in men. Many HIV symptoms are the same for men and women, but not all. Here’s a list of nine common symptoms, including those that are specific to women.
- Early, flu-like symptoms
In the early weeks after contracting HIV, it’s not uncommon for people to be without symptoms. Some people may have mild flu-like symptoms, including:
lack of energy
swollen lymph glands
These symptoms often go away within a few weeks. In some cases, it may take as many as 10 years for more severe symptoms to appear.
- Skin rashes and skin sores
Most people with HIV develop skin problems. Rash is a common symptom of HIV, and many different types of skin rashes are associated with the condition. They may be a symptom of HIV itself or the result of a concurrent infection or condition. If a rash appears, it’s a good idea to have a healthcare provider review one’s medical history. They can use a complete medical history to determine which diagnostic tests are needed. Sores, or lesions, may also form on the skin of the mouth, genitals, and anus of people with HIV. With proper medication, however, skin problems may become less severe.
- Swollen glands
Lymph nodes are located throughout the human body, including the neck, back of the head, armpits, and groin. As part of the immune system, lymph nodes fend off infections by storing immune cells and filtering pathogens. As HIV begins to spread, the immune system kicks into high gear. The result is enlarged lymph nodes, commonly known as swollen glands. It’s often one of the first signs of HIV. In people living with HIV, swollen glands may last for several months.
HIV makes it harder for the immune system to fight off germs, so it’s easier for opportunistic infections (OIs) to take hold. Some of these include pneumonia, tuberculosis, and oral or vaginal candidiasis. Yeast infections (a type of candidiasis) and bacterial infections may be more common in HIV-positive women, as well as harder to treat. In general, people with HIV are also more prone to infections of the following areas:
HIV can make it more difficult to treat common ailments such as the flu, too. However, taking antiretroviral medications and achieving viral suppression will dramatically reduce a person’s risk of getting OIs. Other precautions, including frequent hand-washing, can also help prevent some of these illnesses and their complications.
- Fever and night sweats
People with HIV may experience long periods of low-grade fever. A temperature between 99.8°F (37.7°C) and 100.8°F (38.2°C) is considered a low-grade fever. The body develops a fever when something is wrong, but the cause isn’t always obvious. Because it’s a low-grade fever, those who are unaware of their HIV-positive status may ignore the symptom. Sometimes, night sweats that can interfere with sleep may accompany fever.
- Menstrual changes
Women with HIV can experience changes to their menstrual cycle. Their periods may be lighter or heavier than normal, or they may not have a period at all. HIV-positive women may also have more severe premenstrual symptoms.
- Increased outbreaks of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
For people who already have another sexually transmitted infection (STI), HIV can lead to worsening symptoms. Human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts, is more active in people who have HIV. HIV can also cause more frequent — and more intense — outbreaks in people with genital herpes. Their bodies may not respond as well to their herpes treatment, either.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. PID in HIV-positive women may be harder to treat. Also, symptoms may last longer than usual or return more often.
Get Answers from a Doctor in Minutes, Anytime
Have medical questions? Connect with a board-certified, experienced doctor online or by phone. Pediatricians and other specialists available 24/7.
- Advanced symptoms of HIV and AIDS
As HIV progresses, symptoms can include:
nausea and vomiting
shortness of breath
In the later stages, HIV can lead to:
short-term memory loss
The most advanced stage of HIV is acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). At this stage, the immune system is severely compromised, and infections become increasingly hard to fight off. A person receives a diagnosis of AIDS when their CD4 cell count falls under 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (mm3). At this point, the risk of certain cancers increases. These so-called “AIDS-defining cancers” include Kaposi sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and cervical cancer (which is specific to women).