Many times, early HIV symptoms are mild and most cases ignored. However, it should be known that even without visible signs, an infected person can still transmit the virus to another person when there is contact of body fluids such as blood, semen or vaginal fluid especially in case of unprotected sex (both vaginal and anal, and sometimes oral in case of an open wound in the mouth.) In other cases, HIV can be transmitted through infected sharp objects like razor blades and needles. It is therefore ideal to get tested as soon regularly to know your status such that necessary medication can be administered as quickly as possible.
Generally, HIV symptoms tend to be similar in both men and women but there are some differences. The following are just some of the common symptoms that are noticeable sooner after contracting the virus, including those specific to women.
These are likely to appear in the first few weeks after contracting the virus. However, in some cases, these symptoms are not noticeable. The typical signs include flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and lack of energy. In many cases, these symptoms go away within a few weeks.
Skin rashes and sores
Skin problems are significant symptoms of HIV with skin rash being the most common. After transmission of the virus, the skin usually becomes extremely sensitive to sunlight among other irritants. In such cases, skin rashes appearing as flat red patches with small bumps are likely to emerge.
Sores or lesions are also likely to form on the skin around the mouth, anus, and genitals. In most cases, the sores are difficult to treat. Other common skin conditions include shingles and herpes. However, with proper and timely medication, such symptoms can be made less severe.
Swollen lymph nodes around the neck, armpits, back of the head and groin too are part of the noticeable HIV symptoms in women. The lymph nodes form part of the immune system to filter harmful substances and fend off infections. Immediately the virus gets into the body; the immune system is triggered into high gear resulting in swelling of the lymph nodes which are the swollen glands in this case. These symptoms may last for a couple of months.
Once the virus enters into the body, the immune system is weakened making it hard to fight off germs. This way, opportunistic infections like tuberculosis, pneumonia, and hepatitis take hold. Other likely infections include those affecting the kidney, lungs, skin, brain, and digestive tract. In such situations, it becomes difficult to treat simple ailments like common flu.
It is advisable to take extra precautions such as washing of hands and taking prescribed HIV medications to help prevent such infections and the severity that comes with them.
It is common for infected women to experience changes in their menstrual cycle. In some cases, the periods may become lighter or heavier than usual or even not experience periods at all. It is also for infected women to experience severe premenstrual symptoms.
Bacterial and yeast infections
HIV positive women are also likely to experience bacterial and yeast infections. These are difficult to treat in most cases.
Sexually transmitted infections
Any woman infected with HIV has a higher risk of contracting various STIs including trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, human papillomavirus and Chlamydia among others. In case of genital herpes, the outbreaks may become worse and appear more frequently. It is also possible that the body may not respond well with herpes treatment leading to genital warts or in severe cases, cervical cancer.
Pelvic inflammatory disease
This is an infection of the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. HIV infected women may find it harder to treat this kind of infection making the symptoms to last longer and appear often than usual.
Advanced HIV symptoms
In the advanced stage, HIV leads to AIDS with severe symptoms like diarrhea, excessive weight loss, nausea and vomiting, severe headache, night sweats, shortness of breath, chronic coughs, short-term memory loss, mental confusion, joint pain, muscle aches, and coma. In the advanced HIV stage (AIDS) the immune system is extremely compromised, and infections become hard to fight off. The transition from HIV to AIDS is marked by certain cancers including Kaposi sarcoma, and cervical cancer.
Though some studies have revealed that regular intake of antiretroviral drugs may reduce the virus to undetectable levels in the blood such that the virus cannot be transmitted to another partner during sexual intercourse, it is always advisable to stay safe by using protection. Besides, nursing care focused on symptom assessment, and symptom management is crucial to guarantee extended life expectancy among women living with the virus.