Signs of HIV in Different Stages

Getting tested for HIV is a good idea because it allows you to make healthy decisions to avoid getting or transmitting the infection. There will certainly be some symptoms, but it is not possible to rely on symptoms alone to tell if someone is HIV positive or not. What signs you experience usually depends on the stage of the infection. It is also important to bear in mind that not every patient is going to have symptoms. Let's find out more about it.

Signs of HIV in Different Stages

There are three stages of HIV infection. It is important to diagnose it early and seek treatment to keep it from becoming worse over time. Without treatment, it will eventually destroy your immune system.

1. First Stage: Acute HIV Infection

Most people stay unaware of when they first become infected with HIV, but eventually, some symptoms begin to appear. These symptoms appear because of your immune system trying to fight and eliminate the virus. These signs of HIV may appear after 2-6 weeks of becoming infected. The stage is also called primary HIV infection.

These early symptoms are quite the same as other viral infections, such as diarrhea, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, aching muscles, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a red rash on the torso. Early diagnosis matters a lot because this allows doctor to use some treatment options to prevent it from spreading. There are certain anti-HIV drugs available for people to help protect themselves, but you need to take these within 72 hours of being exposed to the virus.

2. Second Stage: Chronic HIV Infection

You enter the second stage when your immune system fails to get rid of the virus. This is when you no longer have those flu-like symptoms, which is why this is also called clinical latent period or the asymptomatic stage. Most people do not know that they are infected because there are not symptoms that they can feel or see. That is why they end up spreading it to others. This stage may last up to 10 years or even more in some cases.

Even though you do not experience any signs of HIV during this phase, the virus keeps destroying your immune system by killing CD4 T-cells. When the number of these T-cells drops, you are more likely to develop other infections as well. Your doctor can check these numbers through blood tests. Even at this stage, your doctor can give you certain medications to help rebuild your immune system. If you continue to take medications and maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is possible to keep HIV infection from progressing any further.

3. Third Stage: AIDS

The advanced stage of HIV infection is AIDS. In this stage, the number of your CD4 T-Cells becomes very low. You may even develop pneumocystis pneumonia, Kaposi's sarcoma, or other AIDS defining illnesses. You may also have some other symptoms at this stage. For instance, you may feel tired all the time, have night sweats, notice swollen lymph nodes in your groin or neck, and have fever that may last for more than a couple of weeks. Unexplained weight loss, shortness of breath, purplish spots on the skin, severe diarrhea, bruises, and yeast infections in the throat, vagina, or mouth are other common symptoms associated with this stage.

It is important to understand that you might not live for more than 3 years if you have AIDS and do not get any treatment. However, you can improve your life span with treatment and a healthy lifestyle.

Get Tested

It is true that getting tested for HIV and waiting for your result can be a nerve-wrecking experience, but it is important to have it done. Even when you do not have symptoms, you are still contagious and can transmit the virus to others. There is no other way to confirm if you have HIV or not. Therefore, it is the smartest thing to do to get tested for HIV and work with your doctor to know how to proceed if your test result is positive.

Types of HIV Tests

If you believe you have some signs of HIV, it is important to get tested as soon as possible. There are three main types of test, including nucleic acid test (NATs), combination tests, and antibody tests. These tests can detect HIV infection during a specific time limit only. Your doctor can guide you in this regard.

  • Antibody Tests: These tests look for the presence of HIV antibodies in the fluids or blood. These antibodies are actually disease-fighting proteins that your body produces to fight HIV infection. Your body may take 3-12 weeks to produce enough antibodies to be detected through an antibody test.
  • Combination Tests: Not only can these tests detect HIV antibodies, they can also detect HIV antigens in your blood. A combination test is usually effective 2-6 weeks after you become infected because your body takes this long to produce enough HIV antigens and HIV antibodies. These tests are more commonly used in labs these days.
  • NATs: These tests look for the virus itself. These tests can detect HIV infection up to 7-28 days of becoming infected. These tests are not that common because they are very expensive. People opt for these tests only when they have had a high-risk exposure.

What it means is that initially, your doctor will order a combination test or an antibody test to make a correct diagnosis. They may order follow-up testing only when your initial test result is positive. Those follow-up tests are done to confirm the diagnosis. In case you are tested negative after the initial HIV test, your doctor may order re-testing after 3 months of your exposure to HIV. 

 
 
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