Hiv Aids Symptoms

HIV symptoms can be difficult to detect. Early symptoms of HIV resemble those of the flu or a cold. In fact, the disease often has no symptoms until it progresses into AIDS and symptoms of opportunistic infections emerge. Severe AIDS symptoms may take anywhere from two to ten years to develop.

Early Symptoms of HIV

Few people are likely to associate the early symptoms of HIV with eventual AIDS onset: initial HIV symptoms develop within two months of infection and may be brushed off as simply a cold or flu.

Early symptoms of HIV include the following:

  • abdominal cramps
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • headache
  • joint pain
  • muscle aches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • skin rashes
  • sore throat
  • weight loss.

Early HIV symptoms occur because the virus replicates rapidly in the initial months of infection. During the initial phase of HIV infection the virus is present in very large amounts in a person’s genital fluids. Consequently, the possibility of HIV transmission is very high in the first few months of infection. HIV transmission is always possible after initial infection: the risk of spreading the disease through sexual contact never goes away.

A Lack of HIV Symptoms

After the early symptoms of HIV diminish, the disease may progress for years without any observable symptoms. While AIDS and symptoms related to AIDS generally take between two and ten years to fully develop, some people develop AIDS symptoms, rather than cold or flu symptoms, within months.

Children born infected with HIV develop AIDS symptoms faster than people infected during adulthood. HIV positive children generally progress to full onset AIDS and symptoms within two years.

The period of time between the early symptoms of HIV and AIDS symptoms is referred to as the established period. Although HIV symptoms are mild or nonexistent during this period, the HIV virus continues to replicate and erode the immune system, reducing levels of white blood cells called CD4 lymphocytes.

HIV Symptoms Prior to AIDS

As the CD4 blood count drops, a number of HIV symptoms begin to appear. None of these symptoms alone necessarily indicates the development of full-blown AIDS. However, they do indicate that the HIV infection is steadily advancing. Symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • flaky skin
  • frequent fevers
  • memory problems
  • night sweats
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • progressive weight loss
  • severe herpes simplex
  • shingles
  • skin rashes
  • swollen lymph nodes for longer than three months.

AIDS Symptoms, Opportunistic Infections, and Cancer

Once the CD4 white blood cell count drops below 200 per cubic milligram of blood, HIV has progressed into full-blown AIDS. At this stage of HIV infection, the immune system cannot adequately defend against infection and certain cancers.

Most AIDS symptoms result from opportunistic infections (OI) that only cause disease when the body’s immune system has been significantly weakened. The human body is typically host to a wide range of bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi. While many of these are not a threat to a healthy body, they are quick to take advantage of a suppressed immune system.

Common OI causes of AIDS symptoms include bacteria-causing pneumonia, severe thrush, toxoplasmosis, and tuberculosis. In all, symptoms of over 25 clinical conditions can appear with AIDS. Symptoms of opportunistic infections can include:

  • chronic cough
  • coma
  • confusion
  • difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • fever
  • headaches
  • loss of coordination
  • memory problems
  • nausea and vomiting
  • seizures
  • severe fatigue
  • severe or chronic diarrhea
  • severe weight loss
  • shortness of breath
  • vision loss or blindness.

In addition to AIDS and symptoms of opportunistic infections, people with AIDS are vulnerable to cancerous cell growth, especially cancers thought to have a viral origin, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma and cervical cancer. AIDS and symptoms of lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system) are often comorbid, meaning that they coexist.

When present as AIDS symptoms, cancers are generally extremely aggressive. Kaposi’s sarcoma, although rare in the general population, is common in AIDS patients. It manifests itself as round red, brown, or purple spots on the skin or in the mouth in light skinned people. In darker skinned individuals, the cancer appears as a pigmented area.

AIDS and Symptoms in Children

Children with AIDS and HIV symptoms often have the same symptoms as adults. In some cases, however, AIDS symptoms may be most apparent in a failure to thrive or grow.

Children with AIDS symptoms will experience the same childhood illnesses as healthy children, but the diseases tend to have more severe symptoms and longer recovery times. Severe and frequent ear infections, pink eye (conjunctivitis) and tonsillitis are all common symptoms of HIV/AIDS in children.

Resources

AIDS.org. (reviewed 19 September 2004). Opportunistic infections.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (updated 4 April 2005). HIV infection and AIDS: An overview.

WebMD.com. (nd). Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.