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HIV Symptoms in Women

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What is HIV and how is it transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from person-to-person from contact with infected blood, semen and/or vaginal fluid. Having unprotected sex vaginal or anal sex (or oral sex if you have a cut or open sore in your mouth) with an infected partner greatly increases the risk of contracting HIV. HIV can also be transmitted via unsterile drug use, from using infected needles, syringes or drug equipment. Most women contract HIV during vaginal sex, however, anal sex is the riskiest type of sex for getting or spreading HIV.

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HIV and women

According to the CDC, women made up 19 percent of the United States’ new HIV diagnoses in 2014. Women predominantly contract HIV from a male partner during sex, in fact, 87 percent of these new cases were attributed to heterosexual sex, while the remaining 13 percent were attributed to intravenous drug use.

New HIV cases diagnosed in women are declining compared to new men’s HIV cases. New HIV cases in women have dropped 40 percent from 2005 to 2014. Racially, new HIV cases in women are dropping among all races in the U.S., however a vast majority of new HIV diagnoses are still in African American women.

The CDC reports that in 2014 of all the new HIV cases:

  • 62 percent were African American (5,128 diagnoses)
  • 18 percent were white (1,483 diagnoses)
  • 16 percent were Hispanic (1,350 diagnoses)

Women and AIDS

Women make up a quarter of the estimated 20,792 AIDS diagnoses in 2014 and they represent one-fifth of the estimated 1,210,835 AIDS diagnoses in the U.S. since the start of the epidemic until 2014.

HIV symptoms in women

HIV symptoms will vary from case to case, but the following are the most common patterns HIV infections follow.

Upon infection, it may take individuals with HIV 2-4 weeks to exhibit symptoms. Often these symptoms are mistaken for a common cold or flu, rather than HIV. Approximately 80 percent of individuals with an acute HIV infection will experience flu-like symptoms. That being said, sometimes it can take years for symptoms to appear. This is why it is so important for you and your partner to always get tested before beginning a new sexual relationship. Getting tested for HIV helps women seek needed treatment sooner and helps to stop the spread of the virus to others.

There are varying symptoms of HIV in women depending upon the stage of the disease they are in: Acute HIV stage (new infection stage); asymptomatic stage; and the latest, advanced stage known as AIDS.

HIV and pregnancy

HIV can also be transmitted from a mother to her child during childbirth (called perinatal HIV) or through breastfeeding. By ensuring that all pregnant women are tested for HIV throughout their pregnancy, the transmission from mother-to-child can help be prevented through the use of antiretrovirals during pregnancy, a cesarean birth, and/or antiretroviral therapy for the child after birth.

Acute HIV symptoms in women

The most common HIV symptoms in women in this stage include:

  • Body rash
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Severe headaches

Less common HIV symptoms in women in this stage include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Vaginal infections, like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis
  • Night sweats
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle aches and joint pain

During the acute HIV stage, symptoms most often last one to two weeks.

Asymptomatic stage of HIV in women

Upon the aforementioned symptoms disappearing is when the asymptomatic period of HIV begins. During this stage, an individual with HIV does not exhibit any signs or symptoms of infection. HIV may not cause any more symptoms for months or years, but at this point the virus is still replicating and is starting to break down the body’s immune system by attacking important immune cells. The virus is still active during this stage and can still be transmitted to others, which is why it is important to get tested for HIV even if you do not feel ill.

Advanced stage of HIV; AIDS symptoms

Without treatment, it may take a matter of months or years for HIV to weaken the immune system beyond repair. This progression of HIV is referred to as AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. This last stage of of an HIV infection means that the body’s immune system is severely damaged, leaving it more susceptible to other infections that it would otherwise be able to fight off if it were not compromised and damaged. It is not uncommon for individuals with AIDS to frequently get colds, flus or fungal infections.

Symptoms women with AIDS may experience include:

  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Sores or ulcers in the mouth
  • Vaginal infections, like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Recurring fever
  • Recurring chills
  • Recurring night sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Persistent or prolonged swelling of the lymph nodes
  • Memory loss, confusion or neurological disorders