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Anonymous on November 23, 2011

What is the symptoms of HIV?

I need to know more about HIV. What is the symptoms of HIV? How do I know if I’ve got it? 

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on November 23, 2011

Thanks for asking about the signs and symptoms of HIV. It’s an important topic that many people want to know more about.

Soon after someone contracts HIV, flu-like symptoms are common. Typically these symptoms occur within the first 2-4 weeks after getting HIV during the primary or acute HIV infection stage.

Because these symptoms are so similar to the flu (including fever, muscle aches, headaches, swollen lymph glands, joint pain, night sweats and diarrhea), many people and their doctors don’t recognize them as indications of a new HIV infection. So, if you have similar symptoms, and you might have been exposed to HIV recently, I encourage you to see your doctor to discuss your concern.  

Once the symptoms of primary HIV pass, many people with HIV can go 8-10 years before noticing other problems. This period of time is called the clinical latent infection. As the virus continues to live in the body and attack the immune system, other signs of infection may appear such feeling sick, weight loss, coughing or shortness of breath.

Without treatment, HIV can progress to AIDS...this is a condition that occurs when the immune system has suffered severe damage. On average, it can take about 10 years for someone with HIV to develop AIDS. And once someone has developed AIDS, it’s possible to get sick from things that wouldn’t affect most healthy people...including some cancers, pneumonia and other infections. Remember that treatment at any stage of HIV infection can help alleviate some of these health issues. 

How can you find out if you have HIV? Getting tested is the only way to know for sure whether you have an HIV infection. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend HIV screenings for people ages 13-64. And for those that do happen to be HIV-positive, appropriate HIV treatment can ideally slow the progression of HIV so they can live longer and healthier lives.

If you’d like to learn more about HIV screening tests and HIV treatment, I invite you to read our Expert Guide to HIV.

Thanks for your question and I hope you’ll consider HIV testing for your health. 

Related info:

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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