How To Detect And Defend Against Early Signs Of HIV

The signs of having contracted human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can surface in as little as two weeks, or take as long as three months. It is essential to be aware of how the infection can manifest itself early on. Early detection ensures proper diagnosis. This allows doctors to provide treatment to slow the progression of AIDS and help patients live a full life. Many of the early symptoms associated with HIV are similar to the flu. 

HIV patients need intense treatment to manage their condition. HIV treatment is usually called antiretroviral therapy, as HIV is a retrovirus. HIV therapy involves taking a selection of HIV medications to slow down the virus' progression in the body. Unfortunately, there is no cure for HIV yet, although many laboratories are searching for one.



Headaches affect one in two individuals living with HIV, with more than one in four experiencing chronic migraines. Low CD4 T-cell counts cause headaches most often. However, they could also be a result of other issues such as infection, nervous system maladies, and medication toxicity. A physician should examine new or severe headaches. Most HIV patients indicate their headaches are not typical run-of-the-mill tension headaches. 

The patients who live with chronic migraines experience symptoms such as intense, pulsating and throbbing head pain, sensitivity to light, as well as blurred vision. This will happen for approximately fifteen days or more per month. In comparison, only two percent of individuals in the general population who do not suffer from HIV experience chronic migraines.



A fever is the body's normal response to a viral infection. Thus, it should be no surprise that one of the most common symptoms of HIV is fever. There are many reasons for an HIV-related fever, including reactions to the disease itself and HIV medications. Additional infections resulting from a lowered immunity may also be a factor for some patients. Individuals with HIV can experience persistent or occasional fevers. In the case of an acute HIV infection, a persistent fever is often a sign that the body is still functioning the way it should.



Out of many of the possible signs and symptoms of HIV, fatigue is the one that may seem the most subtle. However, it can have a profound effect on a patient's quality of life. A lack of energy keeps individuals from being social, active, and carrying out daily tasks. There are many ways to battle the fatigue and lethargy that often comes with HIV. 

However, before moving forward, it is important to understand the possible causes of HIV fatigue. Patients and their doctors have to pay attention to this before taking steps to minimize its impact, as fatigue may be directly related to the body fighting the virus itself. Immune systems are under attack by HIV, which invades T lymphocytes (also called T-cells) known for helping the body fight infection and disease. The virus then takes energy from T-cells to replicate itself. These microscopic events manifest as fatigue.

Swollen Lymph Nodes


The lymphatic system plays a crucial role in the body's immune system. Lymph, a clear fluid circulating throughout the body, is partly made up of white blood cells that fight bacteria. Lymph nodes are located throughout the body, including in the neck, groin, and armpits. They are no more than two and a half centimeters long and are responsible for filtering lymph and producing immune cells. 

Lymph nodes protect both the body's blood and the immune system. Healthy lymph nodes are not visible, but once infected, they become swollen and may look and feel like hard bumps. As HIV progresses, more lymph nodes may swell throughout the body. If individuals have swollen lymph nodes for more than two to four weeks, they should see a doctor.



Like other HIV symptoms, many individuals mistake a rash for another infection or cause. However, approximately ninety percent of HIV patients experience skin changes at some point with the disease. Rashes can develop due to conditions caused by HIV or as a side effect of taking HIV medications. 

The rash typically appears as a red, flat area on skin covered with red bumps, whether the cause is the disease itself or a medication. These rashes are itchy and can show up on all parts of the body, including the face, chest, hands, and feet. HIV rashes range from mild to life-threatening and cause serious damage to the skin. Individuals need to make sure to get all rashes appropriately diagnosed.

Muscle And Joint Pain


Other common symptoms of HIV infection are chronic muscle and joint or body pain. The chronic pain caused by muscle and joint aches could be due to the infection alone or the drugs that treat it. The inflammation that HIV and the medications cause can get into muscles and joints. This is what triggers chronic pain throughout the body. Patients who had arthritis before being infected with HIV may find their arthritis worsens. 

Joint aches occur in forty-five percent of individuals living with HIV. The reason these aches appear varies widely, but studies show that many HIV patients can get relief from these aches if they take anti-inflammatory medication. The traditional options for this are naproxen and ibuprofen. 

Mouth Sores


Approximately one-third of HIV patients will develop mouth sores due to a weak immune system. These sores are often recurring and significantly affect the patient's quality of life, making it difficult to eat and take medication. One of the most common viruses of the mouth is the herpes simplex virus. It is also known as oral herpes. This virus appears as red sores in the mouth, and these sores are often painful. Oral herpes is, thankfully, treatable with medication to stop new outbreaks. Individuals affected should avoid sharing foods since herpes is highly contagious. 

Mouth lesions known as ulcers and canker sores are also a common type of highly painful mouth sore. They tend to develop on the inside of the lips, cheeks, and tongue. Some over-the-counter creams and mouthwashes can reduce inflammation.

Genital Ulcers


The presence of genital herpes could also be a sign of both early and late-stage HIV. Having herpes can also be a risk factor for contracting HIV, as genital ulcers make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sexual intercourse. Due to a weakened immune system, individuals with HIV tend to have frequent and severe herpes outbreaks. 

One study showed that genital ulcer symptoms increased both during and after acquiring HIV. The study found that patients with newly acquired HIV infections were more likely to have pre-existing herpes simplex 2 virus (HSV-2). This virus is what causes genital ulcers. Patients who had this pre-existing condition also had higher HIV viral-load levels than those who did not.

Night Sweats


Night sweats are another common symptom during the early stages of HIV infection, with approximately half of all patients being affected. Night sweats result in sweating that soaks bedding and clothing while sleeping. They are not unlike the hot flashes menopausal women are commonly known to suffer. Night sweats are not related to exercise or the temperature of the room. 

When it comes to HIV, night sweats are the result of an HIV-related illness rather than the infection itself. A few examples of infections that could cause night sweats due to HIV include Mycobacterium avium complex, histoplasmosis, and tuberculosis. The first two are a bacterial infection and a fungal infection, respectively. 



Having diarrhea is one of the most common complications of HIV. The disease itself can trigger it, but the medications that patients take to treat their condition can also. Poor nutrition can worsen both of these causes. However, HIV patients need to continue taking medication unless their doctor tells them something different for their specific case. Diarrhea during HIV can be severe, and it may also be present in combination with nausea or abdominal pain. Gastrointestinal (GI) problems are a common issue for individuals with HIV. Intestinal infections and bacterial overgrowth can cause HIV-related GI issues, resulting in diarrhea. 



Just like a sore throat and mouth ulcers, an individual who has HIV may also develop thrush. Oral thrush occurs when a yeast infection develops on the inside of the mouth or the tongue. Also known as oral candidiasis, the Candida albicans fungus is what ultimately causes thrush to develop. A tiny amount of the fungus normally lives in the mouth without causing any harm. However, when the fungus begins to grow uncontrollably, an infection can develop. Symptoms of oral thrush include white bumps on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, or tonsils. Patients will also experience slight bleeding, painful bumps, dry and cracked skin at the corners of the mouth, difficulty swallowing, and a bad taste in the mouth. 

The Stages Of HIV


There are three known stages of HIV, and depending on the patient's stage, their symptoms may vary. The first stage of HIV is the acute or primary HIV infection, and is also called acute retroviral syndrome. During this initial stage, many individuals experience flu-like symptoms, as the immune system is actively trying to fight off the virus within the first two to six weeks.

The second stage of HIV is the clinical latency stage, where the virus becomes less active, though it is still living in the body. During the second stage, many patients experience little to no symptoms, while the viral infection progresses at very low levels. During this stage, untreated HIV will be killing CD4 T-cells and destroying the immune system. The more cells that are destroyed, the more vulnerable an individual is to other infections. This second phase can last a decade or longer.

The Final Stage


The final phase of HIV is also commonly known as the AIDS stage. This is when a patient's infection moves from HIV to AIDS, which is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. During this phase of the disease, the immune system becomes critically damaged, and it is highly susceptible to opportunistic infections due to the body's CD4 T-cell number dropping below 200. Once the disease progresses into this stage, symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS become apparent. These include rapid weight loss, nausea, vomiting, fever, chronic fatigue, purplish skin spots, shortness of breath, yeast infections, unexplained bruises and bleeding, and cognitive impairment.

Getting Tested


Getting tested for HIV is imperative for an individual's health, especially if they are at risk or have exchanged bodily fluids with someone else. Even if an individual shows no signs and is not receiving treatment, they can easily transmit the virus to another person unknowingly. Fortunately, several treatments can effectively eliminate the risk of transmitting the virus to another person. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antiretroviral therapy can suppress the virus to an extent. When an HIV patient can maintain an undetectable viral load, they cannot transmit the virus to others. An undetectable load is fewer than 200 copies of the virus per milliliter (mL) of blood. Multiple studies have proven that early initiation of antiretroviral therapy correlates to a decreased risk of HIV and AIDS-related illnesses. However, delaying treatment until an individual's CD4 count drops below 350 cells/mL is associated with more infections and a profound decrease in life expectancy.

Taking an HIV test is the only way to determine whether an individual has the virus or not. The CDC recommends testing everyone in the United States between thirteen and sixty-four years old at least once for HIV as a safety precaution. If detected, doctors now recommend beginning HIV therapy at the time of diagnosis. This can significantly reduce the likelihood of illness and death by fifty-seven percent.

If you believe you are at risk or are concerned about HIV/AIDS, please visit a medical professional and get tested as soon as possible. You can save not only your life, but countless others as well.


    HealthPrep Staff