11 Early Symptoms of HIV Every Woman Should Be Aware Of
HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is an incurable disease that attacks your body’s immune system, passed through bodily fluids like semen, blood, and breast milk (although not saliva). Although there is no cure for it, people with HIV can still live long, healthy lives if they are undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatments. That’s why it’s so important that the virus is identified as early as possible.
But this can prove challenging because the earliest symptoms of HIV present themselves in flu-like fashion, including fever, sore throat, aches, etc. Here are some of the ways HIV presents itself in women.
1. Fever and Chills
A fever is often an indication that your body is fighting off an illness, but while that might be effective in the fighting of weaker viruses, HIV is a far mightier opponent. That’s why a low-grade fever – anything ranging from 99.5 to 101F – accompanied by chills is one of the most common symptoms of HIV.
The fever may last a week or two, or might just show up for a day or two, but Dr. Horberg recommends getting tested if there is any chance that you might have been infected (due to recent sexual activity, etc.).
2. Frequent Night Sweats
If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with your sheets soaked in puddles of sweat – and it’s not a hot summer’s night when your air conditioning isn’t working – you might want to call your doctor. This is because sweat is an indication that the body is trying to ward off toxins, such as HIV.
While HIV is not the only possible cause of night sweats, none of the other options are too favorable either. These could include anything from menopause and mononucleosis to cancers like lymphoma and leukemia. Dr. Horberg recommends calling your doctor immediately if you’re soaking your sheets over the course of a few nights.
3. Red Rashes That Aren’t Itchy
Another common symptom of HIV in women is a rash that can appear all over the body, including the arms, legs, and torso. In others, it might appear in just one or two spots.
According to Dr. Horberg, the rash would resemble something similar to an allergic drug reaction. There would be a general redness, and maybe a few discrete red bumps. He also says that even though they may last up to a week, most patients say that HIV-related rashes are not itchy. The inflammation is simply the body’s natural response to fighting an infection.
4. Severe Sore Throat
An inflamed throat is another common symptom of your body’s reaction to a viral infection. It would make it hard to swallow, but unlike with strep, your doctor won’t see patches of white, but just redness and inflammation like with a cold.
Dr. Horberg says there are a lot of viruses that can affect your throat, it doesn’t always have to be HIV. But if you have any concern that you might have HIV, it’s better to get tested.
5. Chronic Sleepiness and Soreness
A feeling of discomfort and tiredness leading to always feeling sore or sleepy is seen within the first week of being infected with HIV in most patients affected by it. This would not be like a typical day when you feel a bit more tired than usual. Going to work or sticking to your daily routine can seem like a mammoth task.
“Everything hurts. It’s hard to move, and you just can’t make yourself comfortable,” says Horberg. “Your body is fighting the HIV virus, and it’s tired.”
6. Swollen Lymph Nodes
Your lymph nodes are located in your neck, armpits, and groin, and are responsible to produce infection-fighting cells. When your body is affected by HIV, these nodes work overtime to try to fight the virus, which may make them appear swollen and larger than usual. Dr. Horberg suggests also consulting a doctor if you notice swellings in several lymph nodes in different parts of the body.
7. Yeast Infections
Yeast is microscopic fungi that is naturally present in a woman’s mouth and vagina. A yeast infection is caused when it grows at an uncontrollable rate. While some women might get yeast infections related to conditions like diabetes or even for no reason at all other than they are more predisposed to it, HIV is also a cause of it, especially during the very initial stages.
Therefore, Dr. Horberg recommends consulting a doctor immediately if you have a yeast infection and specifically asking for an HIV test if you think you might have the virus.
8. Mouth Ulcers
Mouth ulcers, also known as canker sores, appear as round, whitish, tender “pits” along the lining of your mouth. They may be caused by inflammation as your body attempts to fight against the HIV virus. Such sores often sting, especially when you eat acidic foods.
While canker sores may appear due to a variety of reasons such as stress, hormonal changes, or food allergies, it is also a symptom of HIV, and therefore must be noted.
9. Unexpected Weight Loss
Unexpected weight loss is a symptom that manifests itself over a longer period of time, and therefore is commonly only noticed during the later stages of untreated HIV. In a process known as wasting, you will begin to lose fat and muscle due to a lack of appetite and your body’s inability to efficiently absorb nutrients.
“Often your friends and loved ones will comment that you’re wasting away,” says Horberg. “Typically, it doesn’t happen in patients who have been treated well with modern medicines.”
10. A Meningitis Diagnosis
According to Amesh Adalja, M.D., of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, meningitis, a virus that manifests in the form of fever, lethargy, vomiting, and irritability, could be caused due to the spreading of HIV through your central nervous system.
Cryptococcal meningitis is also commonly associated with HIV, although largely only in patients with AIDS or in the later stages of HIV. Although most people are exposed to the Cryptococcus fungus at some point or the other in their lives, a body weakened through HIV wouldn’t be able to fight it off as well as a healthy immune system.
11. Stomach Troubles
Amruta Padhye, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at the University of Missouri Health Care says that stomach, gastrointestinal, and digestive issues such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting may also be signs of initial stages of HIV.
“With rising viremia [levels of virus in the blood], the immune system is in a state of hyperactivation,” she explains. So if you seem to be having unexplained stomach troubles, it’s not a bad idea to suggest getting tested (especially in the case of recent risky sexual activity).