The symptoms of HIV vary, depending on the individual and what stage of the disease you are in.
EARLY STAGE OF HIV: SYMPTOMS
Within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection, many, but not all, people experience flu-like symptoms, often described as the “worst flu ever.” This is called “acute retroviral syndrome” (ARS) or “primary HIV infection,” and it’s the body’s natural response to the HIV infection.
Symptoms can include:
- Fever (this is the most common symptom)
- Swollen glands
- Sore throat
- Muscle and joint aches and pains
These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. However, you should not assume you have HIV if you have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses. Conversely, not everyone who is infected with HIV develops ARS. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for 10 years or more.
You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether you have HIV. The only way to know for sure if you are infected with HIV is to get tested. If you think you have recently been exposed to HIV if you have had oral, vaginal or anal sex without a condom with a known HIV positive person or a partner whose HIV status you do not know or shared needles to inject drugs get an HIV test.
Traditional HIV tests detect HIV antibodies. But during this early stage your body is not yet producing these antibodies. A new HIV test was approved in 2013 that can detect the presence of HIV in your body during this early stage of infection. So no matter where you get tested, it is very important to let your provider know that you may have been recently infected with HIV and you would like to be tested for acute HIV.
It is important to remember that with or without symptoms, you are at particularly high risk of transmitting HIV to your sexual or drug using partners during this time because the levels of HIV in your blood stream are very high. For this reason, it is very important to take steps to reduce your risk of transmission.
PROGRESSION TO AIDS: SYMPTOMS
If you have HIV and you are not taking HIV medication (antiretroviral therapy), eventually the HIV virus will weaken your body’s immune system. The onset of symptoms signals the transition from the clinical latency stage to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
During this late stage of HIV infection, people infected with HIV may have the following symptoms:
- Rapid weight loss
- Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
- Extreme and unexplained tiredness
- Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
- Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.
Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. So, as noted above, the only way to know for sure if you are infected with HIV is to get tested.
Many of the severe symptoms and illnesses of HIV disease come from the opportunistic infections that occur because your body’s immune system has been damaged.