HIV In Women: Symptoms To Watch Out For

As the first day of December marked World AIDS Day, over a million people are said to be living with HIV in the United States. Worryingly, an estimated 15 percent of this group are not aware of their infection.

Given the importance of early detection, it is beneficial to keep an eye out for symptoms associated with the virus. Here are five common ones that occur in women.

1. Flu-like symptoms

During the weeks following the infection of the virus, the initial signs may present themselves similarly to that of flu — these would include headaches, tiredness, a sore throat, and a low-grade fever somewhere around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The fever may also be accompanied by night sweats i.e. hot flashes of excessive and uncomfortable sweating during the night. These episodes, unrelated to room temperature, can be severe enough to drench your clothes and bed sheets.

2. Changes in skin

One of the more common changes seen in people with HIV is the development of skin rashes. They tend to appear as red-colored on fairer skin tones and purple-colored on darker skin tones.

In some cases, one could also develop lesions on sores in certain regions of the body such as the skin around the mouth or the genital area. Medical News Today also advises taking note of any other unusual spots (in red, pink, brown, or purple) inside the mouth, eyelids, or nose.

3. Unexplained weight loss

"If you're already losing weight, that means the immune system is usually fairly depleted," said Carlos Malvestutto from the department of medicine at NYU School of Medicine, New York City.

Thus, this symptom is typically associated with later stages rather than the early stages of the infection. Partially, this may be attributed to vomiting and diarrhea which accompany the early stages of HIV in 30 to 60 percent of people, Malvestutto estimates.

4. Menstrual changes

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, women with HIV are prone to more menstrual irregularities. "You may have lighter or heavier bleeding, missed periods, and more severe premenstrual syndrome," the website stated.

Rather than a direct effect of late-stage infection, these changes are linked to factors like weight loss and increased stress levels. Furthermore, research has shown a higher likelihood of early menopause among women with HIV.

5. Yeast infections

While yeast infections can affect all women, the risk is higher in those who are HIV-positive. This is because the virus disrupts the natural balance of bacteria that reside in the mouth and vagina. With a vaginal yeast infection, you may experience signs like a burning sensation during urination or sexual intercourse. 

In general, there is a heightened vulnerability to all kinds of infections since the immune system is busy with the virus. "Your body’s own natural ability to fight other infections is being attacked," explained Michael Horberg, director of HIV/AIDS for Kaiser Permanente.