AIDS Symptoms

Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD, June 26, 2017

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is commonly thought of as the final stage of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). It is a syndrome marked by the inability of the immune system to fight off other infections. When AIDS weakens the body, it is vulnerable to other things that healthy bodies can resist like viruses, bacteria, fungi, and some cancers.

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Common AIDS symptoms are:

  • Night sweats
  • Prolonged fever (temperature greater than 100 F) and shaking chills
  • Shortness of breath and cough
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • White spots on the tongue/inside the mouth
  • Headaches
  • Severe fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Weight loss
  • Skin rashes or bumps that may come and go

In addition, there are a number of AIDS-related diseases, known as opportunistic infections, that are not common among people with healthy immune systems. They are opportunistic because they see an AIDS patient's weakened immune system as an opportunity to invade and cause infection. The CDC has developed a list of opportunistic infections that are considered "AIDS-defining" conditions, meaning that if you have HIV and one or more of these diseases, you will be diagnosed with AIDS:

These AIDS-related diseases are:

  • Candidiasis of trachea, esophagus, or lungs (a yeast infection that causes painful white spots/patches in the mouth and throat)
  • Aggressive cervical cancer
  • Coccidiomycosis (a fungal disease that causes a flu-like illness)
  • Cryptococcosis (a fungal disease that can involve the brain and lungs)
  • Cryptosporidiosis (a parasite that infects the GI tract, causing diarrhea)
  • Cytomegalovirus (a viral infection that can cause systemic illness and retinitis)
  • HIV Encephalopathy (which can cause dementia)
  • Chronic herpes simplex ulcers (for greater than 1 month) or pneumonitis, bronchitis, or esophagitis
  • Histoplasmosis (a fungal infection that affects the lungs and can spread to other organs)
  • Isosporiasis (a parasitic infection of the GI tract that causes diarrhea)
  • Kaposi's sarcoma (reddish purple spots that can occur anywhere on the body)
  • Lymphomas (immune system cancers)
  • Mycobacterium avium complex (bacterial infection that can cause lung disease and blood infection)
  • Tuberculosis (a bacterial lung infection that can spread to involve multiple organs)
  • Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (a type of pneumonia caused by a fungus)
  • Recurrent pneumonia
  • Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (viral disease that causes inflammation of the white matter of the brain)
  • Recurrent Salmonella septicemia (a blood infection caused by the bacteria Salmonella)
  • Toxoplasmosis of brain (parasite that causes flu like illness which can develop into whole body illness)
  • Wasting syndrome (extreme weight loss)

When a person develops one or more of these diseases, it is a sign of severe immune system damage. Opportunistic infections are the most common cause of death for people with HIV/AIDS. Because early HIV symptoms can look like other less harmful diseases, it is important that you consider testing for HIV if you're sexually active. This is true even if you don’t have symptoms.

The CDC recommends that HIV testing be performed routinely for all patients aged 13–64 years, and at least yearly for those who are at high risk: IV drug users, men who have sex with men (MSM), sex partners of those infected with HIV, and heterosexuals who since their most recent test had more than one sex partner.

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