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HIV Symptoms

On this page: Symptoms | Early Symptoms | AIDS Symptoms | Complications | Life Expectancy

HIV & AIDS Symptoms

HIV weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to getting sick. The virus attacks white blood cells called CD4 cells, which are essential to your body’s defense. Over time, HIV can lead to AIDS, a potentially life-threatening condition. But many people with HIV don’t have symptoms when they’re first infected, so they don’t know they have it. That’s why getting tested is importantit’s the only way to tell whether you have HIV.  

When HIV progresses to AIDS, a person may develop infections and diseases which healthy immune systems can typically fight off, or certain cancers. HIV-associated issues can affect many parts of the body, including the brain and spinal cord, the heart, the respiratory system, the digestive tract, the genitals, and the skin.1

While there’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, taking medicine called antiretroviral therapy (ART) can lower a person’s viral load and slow the progression of HIV into AIDS. This means people on ART can improve life expectancy, stay healthier, and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV.

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HIV can be managed with proper medical care when detected early. Order our confidential HIV test then walk right into the lab nearest you. No appointment necessary.

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Symptoms of HIV

Do I have HIV symptoms? HIV infection happens in three stages, and its symptoms depend on which stage you’re in. How long after HIV exposure do symptoms show?  Within a few weeks of infection, some people develop a brief flu-like illness, but not everyone does. Symptoms can vary from person to person, and there can be long periods of time during HIV infection when you have no symptoms at all. It can take 8-10 years or more for severe symptoms to develop.

How soon do HIV symptoms show? Early HIV Symptoms (Acute or Primary Infection)

Does HIV have symptoms? Right after being infected with HIV, you may have no symptoms and feel healthy. What is the most common first symptom of HIV? Within 2-4 weeks after being infected with HIV, some people feel sick, feverish, tired, and achy. This reaction is a sign of something called HIV seroconversion, when the body first tries to fight the virus. 

Because early HIV symptoms may seem like the flu or a cold, they can go underestimated and overlooked. But the virus multiplies rapidly during the early stage, making it easy to spread HIV to other people. 

Early symptoms of HIV can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle or joint aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore throat
  • Night sweats

How long do HIV symptoms last? These first signs of HIV usually only last a few weeks. Often, you won’t get symptoms again for several years. But if you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, get tested. If you have HIV, detecting HIV early can help you get earlier treatment to keep you healthier. Learn more about when to get HIV tested.

Asymptomatic HIV

(Chronic Infection)

The second stage of HIV is called chronic HIV infection or clinical latency. During this stage, there are no symptoms. However, even when you feel fine, HIV continues to multiply at a lower rate and infect new cells. The virus slowly kills white blood cells and destroys the immune system’s ability to protect your health.

By knowing your status and taking medicine if you have HIV, you can stay in this stage for longer.

AIDS Symptoms

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It’s the final, most severe stage of HIV infection. People with AIDS have badly damaged immune systems, making them vulnerable to certain opportunistic infections and cancers.

Symptoms of AIDS can include:

  • Persistent, unexplained tiredness
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurring fever
  • Chills
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Pneumonia- such as coughing, shortness of breath, and fever
  • Sores on the mouth, genitals, or anus
  • Skin blotches and skin issues
  • Memory loss, depression, or other neurological problems

HIV Complications

HIV makes it harder for your body to keep you healthy. Left untreated, HIV leads to AIDS, when the number of immune cells is very low, or specific disease syndromes—called AIDS-defining illnesses—occur.3 Having AIDS makes you vulnerable to deadly complications from infection or certain cancers.

Opportunistic Infections

When HIV has weakened the immune system, viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, and certain cancers take advantage of the body’s compromised defenses. These are called opportunistic infections. Opportunistic infections (OIs) occur less commonly and less severely in people with healthy immune systems.

Common opportunistic infections include:4

  • Candidiasis (thrush)—a fungal infection that causes a thick white coating on mucous membranes such as the mouth, tongue, throat, lungs, or vagina.
  • Recurrent pneumonia—an infection that affects one or both of the lungs. Many germs can cause pneumonia. Symptoms include coughing with mucus, trouble breathing, and fever.
  • Recurrent salmonella—a common foodborne illness caused by a type of bacteria. It usually affects only the gastrointestinal tract, causing nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, it can be potentially life-threatening if it spreads through the bloodstream to other parts of the body and triggers a severe immune response.
  • Toxoplasmosis—a common parasitic disease that’s spread through eating undercooked contaminated meat or exposure to infected cat feces. In people with compromised immune systems, it can be severe, causing damage to the brain, eyes, or other organs.

HIV Cancer

People with HIV/AIDS are at an increased risk for developing certain cancers, such as:5

  • Kaposi’s sarcoma—a cancer that causes small blood vessels called capillaries to grow abnormally, leading to patches that are usually red or purple. Since there are capillaries throughout the body, Kaposi’s sarcoma can occur anywhere, including under the skin, in the lining of the mouth, nose, and throat, or in organs inside the body.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma—a cancer of the lymph nodes and other parts of the lymphatic system.
  • Invasive cervical cancer—a cancer that starts in a woman’s cervix, which connects the lower part of the uterus to the vagina.

Coinfections Due to HIV

Coinfections are when someone is living with more than one infection at the same time. Having HIV along with another infection can cause complications and make infections more difficult to treat.

Certain infections that commonly occur alongside HIV include:6

  • Hepatitis B and C– contagious viral infections that cause inflammation of the liver and liver disease. Like HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C can be spread sexually or through sharing contaminated needles.
  • Tuberculosis (TB)– a bacterial disease that’s spread through the air from someone who’s infected. TB usually attacks the lungs, causing coughing, weight loss, and fatigue, but it can also damage other parts of the body. TB is a leading cause of death for people living with HIV across the world. 

It’s common for people with HIV to have other health issues. If you’re managing another health condition along with HIV, HIV can affect the frequency and severity of symptoms, and the progression of disease.

AIDS Wasting Syndrome

Wasting syndrome, also known as cachexia, is when a person involuntarily loses at least 10% of their body weight, especially muscle mass. It’s common in people with AIDS who aren’t being treated. Often, wasting is accompanied by weakness, fever, and diarrhea.

Wasting syndrome can make illness worse and increase the risk of death, so it’s important that people with HIV take antiretroviral medicine and eat well.7

Neurological Complications of HIV

HIV can cause many different conditions that affect your brain and central nervous system. Neurological issues can come from damage the virus itself does, or from diseases that develop, like infections and cancers associated with HIV/AIDS.8

Neurological complications of HIV include:

  • Dementia
  • Inflammation in the brain and spinal cord
  • Damage to the nerves, causing pain or weakness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of hearing and vision
  • Difficulty walking

These neurological issues usually don’t occur until HIV has developed into its advanced stages.

Other HIV-Related Complications

HIV can cause chronic inflammation, putting people living with HIV at increased risk for various health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and bone disease.9

HIV and Pregnancy

Having HIV doesn’t mean you can’t have children. But if you’re pregnant and have HIV, you can pass HIV to your baby any time during pregnancy, labor, or birth, or by breastfeeding. This is because the baby can be exposed to certain HIV-infected bodily fluids like blood, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.

The good news is that the risk of mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy can be lowered to 1 percent or less if you:

  • Follow an effective HIV medication regimen throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery to lower the amount of virus
  • Give HIV medicine to your baby for 4-6 weeks after giving birth.

In some cases, a doctor may also recommend a scheduled C-section.

How Long Do People with HIV Live?

At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, within 10 years of being infected with HIV, a person could expect to get AIDS and then live 1-3 years more.

Today, improved HIV medicines can better manage the virus. This means young people with HIV who begin the right care and treatment soon after infection can expect to live a near-normal lifespan. That being said, your personal life expectancy depends on various factors such as when you started treatment, your gender, and your smoking, drug, and alcohol habits.

I’m scared I have HIV symptoms

Know Your Status

Without an HIV test, it’s often hard to tell you have HIV. It’s not uncommon for people with HIV to have no symptoms. Since the first HIV symptoms can be mild and general, HIV may go overlooked and untreated for a long time—meanwhile damaging and weakening the immune system.

Knowing your HIV status is key to preventing serious health problems. If you have HIV, early detection helps you get the proper medical care and treatment sooner, so you can live a longer and healthier life. If you are scared you have HIV symptoms, getting tested is quick and simple, and can be done confidentially at a doctor’s office, clinic, or local lab.

  1. “About HIV/AIDS” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. “Symptoms of HIV”
  3. “Living With HIV” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  4. “HIV Fact Sheets” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medically Reviewed by on May 18, 2022

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