The symptoms of HIV are mostly the same for men and women. But they can vary from person to person.
In the early stages, about 2 to 4 weeks after you’re infected, you may feel like you have the flu. It’s a sign that your body is responding to the virus. These symptoms may last for a few weeks.
Symptoms of a new HIV infection include:
- Genital sores
- Mouth sores
- Muscle aches
- Night sweats
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
Some people have no symptoms of early HIV infection. Either way, if you feel you might have been infected with HIV, you should get tested.
Another reason to get tested for HIV early is that you may be contagious to others during this time. Knowing that you are infected with HIV will be important for your own health and will also enable you to inform your partner(s) that they should get tested for HIV.
Women’s HIV Symptoms
While men and women generally have similar warning signs, there are a few that affect only women:
Changes in your period. You may have lighter or heavier bleeding, skip periods, or have really bad PMS. Stress or other STDs, which are common with HIV, can cause these issues. But they may also happen because of the virus's effects on your immune system, which may affect your hormones.
Lower belly pain. It’s one of the signs of an infection of the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). For some women, it’s one of the first red flags they have HIV. Along with lower belly pain, PID can cause:
Vaginal yeast infections. Many women with HIV get these often -- several times a year. Sometimes they're the first sign you have the virus. When you get a yeast infection, you can have:
- Thick, white discharge from your vagina
- Pain during sex
- Pain when you pee
- Vaginal burning or soreness
If You Think You Have HIV
If you have any of these symptoms, it doesn’t automatically mean you have the virus. There are many other illnesses, like the flu, that cause some of the same symptoms.
The only way to know for sure is with an HIV test. So get tested if you think you could've gotten the virus, whether or not you have any symptoms.
It’s also important to see your doctor or go to the emergency room right away if you think you could have been exposed to the virus in the past couple of days. A medication called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can keep you from getting HIV. But you have to take it within 72 hours of when you get the virus for it to work. A doctor can give you a prescription for PEP, and you’ll take it once or twice a day for 28 days.
What Happens After the Early Stages of HIV?
After the flu-like symptoms you might have in the first few weeks, you’ll go into what doctors call the "clinical latency stage," also called “asymptomatic HIV infection” or “chronic HIV infection.” Instead of getting worse, your symptoms actually get better as the virus keeps making copies of itself in your body. Most people do not have any symptoms during this stage.
If you have HIV and take antiretroviral drugs, every day, you can stay in this stage for decades and may live a normal life span. Therefore, it is very important that you get tested for HIV and seek treatment if you are infected. Treatment for HIV will also lower your risk of spreading the virus to others.
If you have HIV, you can do other things besides taking antiretroviral therapy to lower your chances of giving HIV to others. Be up-front about your condition with potential partners, and use a condom correctly every time you have sex.