HIV Symptoms

Reviewed by Frank Cockerill, MD, Mar. 28, 2017

What are the signs of HIV?

It may take a very long time, 10 years or more, for an HIV symptom to show up. This is called the "asymptomatic" period. Other people may get symptoms shortly after being infected with the virus. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get an HIV test. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends sexually active adults get tested for STDs at least once a year or more if you take part in higher risk sexual behavior.

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How can I tell if someone has HIV?

You can't tell by looking. Any sexually active person can get HIV. There are only 2 ways to know: ask your partner and get tested for HIV.

If I had HIV symptoms, what would they feel like?

Early symptoms can feel like a flu that lasts longer than usual. This flu-like illness is called HIV seroconversion syndrome and occurs 4 to 8 weeks after infection. This illness may cause a variety of symptoms including:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rash on the abdomen, arms and legs and face
  • Sore throat
  • Thrush, a fungal infection of the mouth

During this initial month of sickness the body's immune system fights most of the HIV virus, which usually makes the symptoms go away. Most people mistake these symptoms for other viral infections. During this period, people are very contagious with the virus.

What happens if HIV is not detected and controlled?

Over the months and years that HIV goes undetected, your immune system is continuously weakened. When symptoms finally return, there are often complications from other infections that won't go away. This could either be stronger flu-like symptoms such as swollen lymph glands (neck and groin), lack of energy, repeated fevers and night sweats, diarrhea, headaches, body aches, sore throats and joint pain, or other signs of sickness such as losing weight, short-term memory loss, mouth sores/ulcers, and gingivitis (gum disease).

For women, repeat infections or complications often arise such as yeast infections (in the mouth or in the vagina) or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) that won't respond to treatment. Other symptoms that often arise from an HIV-weakened immune system include repeated skin rashes or flaky skin, oral thrush (fungus causing white spots in mouth, throat and tongue), skin pox (sores or blisters), fungal infections on the skin or nails, and seborrheic dermatitis (oily coating, crusts, or scales on the skin).

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