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    Signs & symptoms of AIDS

    On this page
    1. Symptoms of AIDS
    2. Symptoms of HIV
    3. Asymptomatic stage of HIV
    4. Infections associated with AIDS
    5. Opportunistic infections
    6. HIV testing

    AIDS is the advanced stage of HIV infection, and stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is not a single illness (like lung cancer) but the name for the numerous illnesses and infections that can develop once the HIV infection has sufficiently weakened the immune system. The damaged immune system cannot fight off these opportunistic infections. This can lead to a range of AIDS symptoms

    Symptoms of AIDS

    Symptoms of AIDS / advanced HIV vary but can commonly include:

    • Severe weight loss
    • Recurrent fever
    • Night sweats
    • Fungal infections
    • Ongoing diarrhoea
    • Memory loss
    • Depression
    • Extreme fatigue
    • Pneumonia
    • Serious illnesses
    • Skin rashes

    The speed with which HIV develops into AIDS greatly depends on how the HIV infection is treated. Modern medication has progressed to the point where most people living with HIV in the UK enjoy a normal and happy life without AIDS ever developing.

    Symptoms of HIV

    HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is most commonly spread through unprotected sex with somebody who is HIV-positive, although sharing a needle with somebody HIV positive can also spread the infection. People recently infected with HIV often experience a flu-like illness is known as the seroconversion illness. Symptoms include:

    • Fever and high temperature
    • Severe headaches
    • Sore throat Muscle ache
    • Joint pain
    • Body rash
    • Fatigue Swollen glands (most commonly neck)
    • Skin lesions

    Estimates suggest at least 80% of newly HIV-positive people will experience symptomatic seroconversion illness. Recognising the symptoms of HIV early is vitally important to ensure quick and effective treatment. Symptoms will almost always occur within six weeks of exposure, normally between one and three weeks.

    Find out more about the symptoms of HIV

    Asymptomatic stage of HIV

    Once the seroconversion illness passes, the HIV infection enters a latency period known as the asymptomatic stage. The HIV carrier will experience no symptoms and feel perfectly healthy. However the HIV remains active, gradually weakening the immune system, and capable of being spread to others. The asymptomatic stage can last ten years or longer. Some HIV symptoms are exclusive to women in the asymptomatic stage of HIV:

    • Vaginal yeast infections: Typically characterised by soreness and itching in the vaginal area, pain during sex and/or urination, and a colourless or white, odourless vaginal discharge. These infections resist the standard medication.
    • Unusual menstrual cycles: Completely varies. Periods might be heavier, lighter, more or less frequent, sometimes missed completely.
    • Pelvic Inflammatory disease: An infection of the pelvic area that can cause stomach pain, abnormal vaginal discharge, fever, pain during intercourse and a disrupted menstrual cycle.

    Infections associated with AIDS

    If you’ve been infected with HIV and your immune system has been damaged by the virus you will be more prone to certain infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis (TB) and candidiasis (thrush). These infections which happen when you have a weakened immune system are known as opportunistic infections. 

    Opportunistic infections

    Opportunistic infections happen when your immune system is weak. There are 4 main types of opportunistic infections:

    • Bacterial infections, e.g. pneumonia
    • Fungal infections, e.g. oral thrush
    • Parasitic infections
    • Viral infections, e.g shingles

    HIV testing

    Always get tested if you believe you have been at risk from HIV infection. This includes unprotected sex with a new partner whose HIV status you don’t know or sharing a needle with somebody: especially if you experience seroconversion symptoms in the following weeks. Visit a GP or GUM clinic immediately to arrange a test. Regular HIV testing is recommended if you are somebody who might be at risk from HIV: frequently practicing unprotected sex or sharing needles. The more people are tested for HIV, the better the virus can be contained and, eventually, eradicated. Our HIV blood test is an accurate and confidential way of testing for HIV without needing to see a doctor face to face.

    Visit the NHS website for an overview of HIV treatment. The Terrence Higgins Trust is the leading HIV charity in the UK.


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