Symptoms of HIV

Symptoms of HIV infection

Symptoms of HIV infection

There are so many ways which HIV can present. The infection lowers a person’s immune system. This will make them more susceptible to any type of infection and any type of disease. Cancers, infections, skin diseases and all other illnesses are more likely to occur if the person has a lowered immune system.   So, technically, people don’t die from HIV or AIDS but from other illnesses and conditions which they develop because of their lowered immune system.

HIV infection is often divided into four stages which are characterized by different symptoms. The acute primary infection usually consists of flu-like symptoms. The second stage of HIV infection is known as the clinical latent phase. This phase is often asymptomatic which means no symptoms of disease are present. This stage can vary between 1 to 15 years so on average lasts about 10 years. The next stage is symptomatic HIV. During this stage symptoms start occurring and infections and diseases are more likely to develop. The final stage of HIV is known as stage 4 disease or AIDS. This is when the immune system has been destroyed dramatically and severe symptoms of disease are present. Often AIDS defining symptoms are present during this stage or CD4 count is under 200. Without treatment death soon follows stage 4 disease.

As mentioned earlier, HIV lowers the immune system and therefor makes a person more likely to develop any signs and symptoms of disease. Symptoms of diseases are often much worse if a person has co-morbid HIV infection. The more common signs and symptoms of HIV are briefly discussed:

  • Flu symptoms
    When the infection is initially acquired the person may experience a brief flu-like illness with headache, body pains and a runny nose. It may even go unnoticed or written off as a minor flu. These flu symptoms last for about a week which may be followed by a long period without symptoms. People with HIV are more prone to get very sick from a minor cold or flu infection.
  • Asymptomatic
    Initially, after the brief flu-like illness, HIV infection may not cause any symptoms for months and sometimes even years. The person infected with HIV may not be aware that they have HIV and are therefore at greater risk of infecting other people during this time.
  • Swollen lymph nodes
    Swollen lymph nodes all over the body are very common in people with HIV. Lymph nodes in the neck, inguinal region, axilla and cubital fossa are often swollen and sometimes tender in people with HIV.
  • Chronic headache
    People with HIV often complain of a chronic headache that does not respond to over-the-counter pain medication. Meningitis, which also causes a headache, must be excluded as a cause of headache in people with HIV. Meningitis is not uncommon in people with HIV and is a serious infection of the meninges of the brain which can quickly result in death.
  • Fatigue
    HIV can cause chronic fatigue and weakness. This makes the infected person to not be able to continue with everyday tasks as they just don’t have the energy to work as they should.
  • Weight loss
    People with HIV often experience weight loss even if their appetite remains the same. Weight loss can sometimes occur in typical areas of the body. Temporal wasting, which is loss of fat around the temporal regions of the skull and fat loss under the eyes are typical in people who are infected with HIV.
  • Chronic diarrhoea
    Chronic diarrhoea often develops in those infected with HIV. This can lead to malnutrition and dehydration if not treated properly. It can also interfere with functioning at work and at home.
  • Other infections
    People who are infected with HIV are more easily infected with other infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB) is often associated with people who are infected with HIV and is an important contributor to morbidity and mortality.
  • Neurological conditions
    All neurological conditions are more common and worse in people who are infected with HIV. Depression is common not only because of the psychological stress which the patient experiences when they are diagnosed with HIV but the HIV virus has a direct effect on the brain which causes depression. Motor function skills and ability to concentrate is also affected by the HIV virus. HIV associated dementia is also not uncommon in patients with HIV especially if their CD4 count is low. Strokes, cerebral vascular abnormalities and all psychiatric conditions are more common in people with HIV infection.
  • Skin conditions
    Various skin conditions are common in patients with HIV infection. These include fungal infections of various sorts, viral infections like Herpes zoster and malignant diseases like Kaposi’s sarcoma. Patients with HIV often have a hyper-pigmented (darkened) blotchy appearance of the skin. Finger nails and toe nails also often develop a greyish, darker appearance.
  • Candida infection
    Candida infection of the mouth and oesophagus is common in people who are infected with HIV. Candida gives the lining of the mouth and tongue a white appearance. It often looks like milk which cannot be scraped off. Oesophageal candida presents as a chronic painful throat which is very sore when the patient swallows.
  • AIDS defining conditions
    There are some conditions that are so strongly associated with the end stage of HIV that they have been named AIDS defining conditions. CD4 count is usually below 200 when these conditions develop. Oesophageal candida is one of the AIDS defining conditions. Disseminated tuberculosis is when TB has spread to other parts of the body other than the lungs and is also known as an AIDS defining condition. What classifies as an AIDS-defining conditions is not always the same in different countries.