HIV was once thought of as a disease that primarily affected men, but women now make up a significant portion of those affected by the disease. One-third of all new HIV cases occur in women. Sexual transmission from an infected male partner is the most common mode of transmission in women. If we break down the HIV cases in women by racial groups, black women are most often affected, followed by Latinos and whites.
What are the symptoms of HIV in women?
In general, the symptoms of HIV in women aren’t all that different to those a man would experience:
- Early stages of HIV: A short “flu-like” illness that occurs about 2 weeks after infection. Read more about the symptoms of HIV.
- Mid-stage HIV: A latency period of up to ten years where few (if any) symptoms are experienced. Swollen or painful glands are likely to be the main indication of an HIV infection during this time.
- Advanced HIV: Constitutional symptoms such as fatigue, weight-loss and dementia can signify a HIV infection is advancing into its later stages.
However, there are some vaginal HIV symptoms that occur in women only:
- Vaginal yeast infections.
- Abnormal Pap smears.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Unusual menstrual cycles.
There are also other health problems that are more common, serious, and harder to treat in women with HIV:
- Vaginal infections, like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) that does not respond to treatment
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer
- Other opportunistic infections (OIs) that can affect the eyes, digestive tract, kidneys, lungs, skin, and brain
HIV and pregnancy
In addition to the fact that more and more women are becoming infected with HIV, it presents an additional problem for women who become pregnant, because HIV positive women can pass the disease to a child during fetal development, childbirth, or through breastfeeding. In the US, it is mandatory for all pregnant women to receive an HIV test at some point during her pregnancy or delivery, so that steps can be taken to ensure the safety of the baby if she is found to be positive.
THE following symptoms are detected in acquiring the HIV infection:
- HIV symptoms in women, in its early weeks after becoming infected, are very mild. It can easily be dismissed as a common cold as it has flu-like symptoms.
- Asymptomatic symptoms. Fever, headache and lack of energy are common signs but they often go away within a few weeks.
- Skin problems such as skin rashes and skin sores. HIV-positive people usually develop skin problems. A common symptom of HIV is the rash. The skin of an HIV-positive person is extremely sensitive to irritants and sunlight. It appears as a flat red patch with small bumps and truns the skin to be flaky.
- Swollen glands. Although it is common throughout our bodies to have lymph nodes, a person with HIV infection is activated which eventually results to an enlarged lymph nodes. The weak immune system of an HIV infected person won’t allow the lymph nodes to fight off infections.
- Healthy lymph nodes store immune cells and filter for harmful substances which the swollen glands could not function. Swollen glands are usually the first signs of HIV infection and may last for several months.
- Infections. People with HIV are more prone to infections of the skin, eyes, lungs, kidneys, digestive tract, and brain. There will be also difficulty in treating common ailments like the flu.
- Fever and night sweats. People with HIV infection may experience long periods of low-grade fever. The body develops a fever when things are not right in your system. But not knowing the reason may cause the person to disregard the symptom. At times, night sweats can interfere the sleep which accompanies the fever.
- Vaginal yeast infections. The infection is brought about by an organism imbalance and weakened immune system. It has burning and itching in the vaginal/vulva area, soreness of the vagina, pain during intercourse or urination and a whitish, odourless vaginal discharge.
- Abnormal pap smears. A pap smear test can detect potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous material found within cervical canal. HIV positive women increase the risk in contacting one and are often than not have abnormal pap smear results or called dysplasia.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease. It caused by a bacteria that start in a woman’s vagina or cervix and could move up to the fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus leading to the infection. It is experienced with lower abdominal pain, abnormal vaginal discharge, fever and pain in the upper right abdomen, painful intercourse and irregular menstrual bleeding.
- Unusual menstrual cycles. The progression of HIV can cause changes in the menstrual cycle. Women may experience more or less frequent periods. Others last longer than usual. Some have missed periods or no period for 90 days or more called amenorrhea.
- Herpes. It is more common in with HIV and manifested with painful blisters or open sores around the genital area. There is also a tingling or burning feeling in legs, buttocks and genitals before the sores starts to appear.