HIV Symptoms in Women

Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD, June 26, 2017

HIV was once thought of as a disease that primarily affected men, but women now make up a significant portion of those affected by the disease. One-third of all new HIV cases occur in women. Sexual transmission from an infected male partner is the most common mode of transmission in women. Black women are most often affected, followed by Latinas and whites.

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HIV and pregnancy

Pregnant HIV positive women can pass the virus to a child during fetal development, childbirth, or through breastfeeding. In the US, it is mandatory for all pregnant women to receive an HIV test at some point during her pregnancy or delivery.

What are the symptoms of HIV in women?

Initial symptoms of HIV in women are often vague and easily missed. If they're noticed, it's still common for women to confuse the symptoms with those of another illness ("I think I may just have the flu"). This can lead to delayed diagnosis.

HIV symptoms in women include:

  • Fever and night sweats
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Skin rash
  • Muscle soreness and joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea/vomiting

When should a woman get tested for HIV?

HIV testing for women who are sexually active is recommended as part of routine care by the CDC, and more often for women who are at high risk (IV drug users, women who have multiple sex partners). Testing remains the only way to know whether you are infected with HIV.

When does HIV become AIDS in women?

Once the acute phase of HIV infection is over, there may be a long, symptom-free period where an infected woman feels "normal" and remains unaware of her infection. However, the virus is still at work and causing damage to the body's immune system. This will eventually lead to AIDS if not detected and treated. Early detection and treatment is essential to halt the progression of HIV and the development of AIDS. For more information on AIDS and AIDS symptoms, see our pages dedicated to these topics.

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