Anonymous on November 8, 2011

I want to know what the symptoms of HIV are. Can you help?

Can you tell me more about the symptoms of HIV? I especially want to know more about early symptoms. Can you help?

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on November 8, 2011

Thank you for your question and I’m happy to help you with some information about early symptoms of HIV, often called primary or acute HIV symptoms.

Remember that primary HIV symptoms are very similar to those of the flu. So rather than relying on symptoms to diagnose HIV, it’s important to get tested for HIV – it’s the only sure way to know your HIV status.

That said, initial symptoms of HIV can typically emerge 2-4 weeks after exposure to the virus. According to the Mayo Clinic, most people infected with HIV experience these symptoms within the first two months of infection…but, again, HIV symptoms tend to be overlooked because of their similarity to the flu.

Some common signs and symptoms of an HIV infection include:

  • Fever, chills, night sweats, sore throat, muscle aches and headaches
  • A possible rash on the body, typically on abdomen, arms, legs or face
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

What about early HIV testing? Testing for HIV during the first weeks of HIV infection is possible with the HIV Early Detection test. Although this test can, in some cases, detect HIV in the blood as early as 6 days after infection, our medical experts advise waiting 21 days after possible infection for the most accurate results. Typically when someone has symptoms from HIV seroconversion (when the body begins to create HIV antibodies), their viral load is high and the early detection test should be positive. 

If you have similar symptoms to those of a primary HIV infection, and if there’s a possibility that you may have been exposed to HIV, I encourage you to get tested and to talk with your doctor about your symptoms. In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about HIV symptoms and HIV testing options, you might want to browse our Expert Guide to HIV.

Thanks for writing, and I wish you good 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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