20 signs that you might be suffering from AIDS

20 signs that you might be suffering from AIDS
April 25, 2014 12:13 AM

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is responsible for causing Acquired immunity deficiency syndrome (AIDS) - the greater havoc ever known to human beings. According to recent surveys, almost 35.3 million people are globally living with this fatal condition. And since its discovery it caused 36 million deaths worldwide. One fact that makes AIDS a terrifying illness is that no effective cure has yet been discovered.

AIDS transmits from one individual to another through sexual contact or bodily secretions like blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk. This disease targets the immune system of human body. This way, it makes a person susceptible to severe other infections and diseases. To put in other words the affected person doesn’t die of AIDS itself but of secondary illness that follow a weakened immune system. The signs and symptoms for AIDS are non-specific to make an appropriate diagnosis. However, this syndrome do present with a cluster of symptoms which when examined and correlated vigilantly can help establish an early diagnosis and improved management.

Some warning signs for AIDS

The classical symptoms of AIDS don’t become evident even years after the onset of disease. And by the time such symptoms appear, the disease has almost always progressed to its advanced stages. But here is the list of 20 warning shots, which when present, might show that you you’re suffering from AIDS. If you observe some or most of these warning shots then you must go to your physician and get yourself checked for HIV/AIDS.

Flu like symptoms

Most of the people report of flu like symptoms that appear within one to two months after the virus gains entry into the body. These symptoms include fatigue, a generalized feeling of being unwell (malaise), running nose and eyes, headache and loss of body energy. This cluster of symptoms is sometimes termed as acute retroviral syndrome.

Fever

If you had unprotected sex recently and your partner is an intra-venous abuser too then you must be extra careful if this symptom appears. The fever might appear with or without the presence of flu like symptoms. The fever is usually of mild degree and doesn’t respond to medication. Fever appears when virus enters into the body and starts replicating. This is when the immune system of body gets activated and responds to the invading viruses by increasing the production of several chemical mediators. These mediators when reach the brain trigger mild to moderate degree fever. So fever is actually a part of the initial protective response of body to viral invasion.

Sore throat

Sore throat might develop early or in the later stages of the disease. Sore throat might develop in the early stages of the disease because of the inflammatory response of the body to acute viral attack. However, persistent throat infection is a warning shot that disease has progressed. As mentioned above, HIV suppresses the immune system of body. This makes the affected person susceptible to viral and fungal infections.

Fatigue

The initial protective response of body to viral infection may lead to unexplained fatigue. The person feels unwell and loses both concentration and energy to perform normal mental or physical activities. Fatigue may also present itself in the form of increased tiredness even upon mild exertion. The person doesn’t feel like doing those activities that once gave him pleasure.

Generalized body aches

Another important warning shot of HIV infection is unexplained and generalized body aches and pains. This phenomenon is a side effect of an attempt of the body to protect itself from raging viral attack. These pains include muscular and joint pain and inflammation. At this stage it is very difficult to differentiate HIV from a bunch of other infections like hepatitis, mononucleosis, common viral infections and syphilis. The reason being, all these illnesses present with almost similar clinical symptoms in the early stages. The key to differentiate HIV infection from regular flu attacks is that the symptoms neither resolve on their own nor do they respond to common anti-viral drugs. The symptoms, in fact, keep on getting worse with the passage of time.

Swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes are small structures present in various parts of the body where they function to protect the body from foreign invaders. Swelling of lymph nodes is seen in armpit, groin, in the neck and above clavicle (beauty bone). Body responds to viral infection by increasing the amount of protective cells (lymphocytes and macrophages). These cells are most commonly harbored in the lymph nodes. When the number of these cells increases, so does the size of lymph nodes.

Infection of respiratory system

Respiratory system is perhaps the most vulnerable system to HIV infections. Like other symptoms the infection of respiratory system is either the direct side effect of the inflammatory process going on inside the body or is due to some super imposed bacterial, viral or fungal infection. The most common of this infection is persistent cough that doesn’t go away with anti-tussives or anti-biotics. Sometimes the immunity is compromised to such extent that pneumonia may develop.

Headache and migraine attacks

Another relatively constant finding among the sufferers of AIDS is persistent headaches. The pain in the head comes totally out of the blue and increases in frequency, duration and intensity as the disease progresses. If you’re getting more than 15 attacks of severe headache per month, it means you’ve developed migraine. Some surveys show that the prevalence of headache is 50% among the sufferers of AIDS. The prevalence of migraines is 27%, which is much high than usual 2% prevalence in general population.

Skin rash

Skin rash is another warning sign of AIDS. Skin rash may develop early or in the later stage of the disease. The inflammatory response of body produces several mediators of inflammation that may trigger a maculopapular rash (small, reddish raised bumps on the skin). Sometimes the compromised immunity of the affected patient may give chance to opportunist fungus and bacteria to grow of the skin.

Weight loss

Weight loss is quite common throughout the entire course of this illness. This loss of weight is quite mild during the early stages of the disease. During this stage the loss of weight is due to decreased appetite, nausea and vomiting. However, the loss of weight becomes more severe as the diseases progresses into advanced stages. Sometimes the loss of weight is so much that this condition is termed as “AIDS wasting syndrome”. A person is said to be suffering from AIDS wasting syndrome if he/she has suffered a loss of as much as 10% reduction in weight.

Gastrointestinal upset

As much as 30% to 60% of patients might experience symptoms of gastrointestinal upset. These include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This might be due to the side effect of anti-retroviral therapy or might be the result of some opportunistic infection that irritates the gastrointestinal track.

Yeast Infection

Yeast is present naturally in almost all openings of body including moth, anus and vagina. Under normal condition, the growth of this fungus is always kept under strict check by the effective immune system of body. But HIV virus destroys the immune system of body. That’s how the opportunistic organisms like yeast get an ideal environment to thrive. The symptoms of yeast infection vary depending on the site of infection. Oral growth of yeast causes sore throat and oral thrust. If these yeasts grow inside the gut, it can cause diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset. Vaginal infections can cause intense itching, abnormal vaginal discharge and pain during micturation.

Night sweats

Another irritating sign of AIDS infection is heavy night sweats. It’s not that the sweat is due to increased environmental temperature. The patients experience sweat even if the temperature is freezing cold. This is perhaps due to increased temperature of body in response to the inflammatory process undergoing inside the body. Body has a system that is meant for regulating the temperature within normal range (thermoregulatory system). Increased body temperature triggers this system and the response is increased production of sweat in an attempt to normalize body temperature. Sometimes a person sweats so much that he/she might wake up during night, soaking in sweat and he/she might have to change clothes and bed coverings.

Sores

The immunity of the affected person is already reduced. This is the optimum time for bacteria and viruses to invade human body. The most common viruses that attack human immune system are EBV and herpes simplex virus. Herpes simplex virus is responsible for causing sore colds. The most common areas where such sores appear are area around lips, inside of mouth, groin and genitals. The characteristic of super imposed herpes infection is that its unresponsiveness to anti-viral therapy and recurrence.

Changes in nails

Another ideal place for fungus to grow is nails of hands and feet. These places are almost always moist and provide an ideal environment for Candida (fungus) to thrive. This causes several abnormal changes in the nail include abnormal keratinization, splitting of nails, change in their color, ingrowths, change in shape and clubbing.

Pneumocystic pneumonia

Another opportunistic organism that causes infection in HIV patients is pneumocystic jerovocii. Some say this organism is a fungus, others say it is a protozoa. Whatever it is, it causes infection only in immune-compromised patients. AIDS patients are its ideal target. It causes pneumonia in the affected patients where it causes fever, non-productive cough (without sputum), difficulty in swallowing, fatigue, lethargy, night sweats and also involves several organs like kidneys, liver and spleen.

Mental signs

Like all other systems, the nervous system is also susceptible to getting affected by HIV infection. The exact reason to why nervous symptoms of HIV infection appear is unknown. Also the severity and type of symptoms that a person might show vary greatly from individual to individual and the stage of disease. These symptoms might be due to the degradation of central nervous system by the chemicals released during inflammation. Patients present with symptoms like altered consciousness, decreased cognitive ability and problem solving abilities. The memory of such patients is also greatly reduced. The patients might also develop depression, anxiety and other psychological symptoms.

Peripheral nerve damage

The HIV infection not only affected the central nervous system but also affects the peripheral nervous system (also peripheral nerve). The symptoms appear due to the destruction of peripheral nerves. This destruction can be either due to some bacterial or viral infection or might be due to auto-immunity and production of antibodies against bodies own tissues.

The symptoms of peripheral nerve damage are as follows:

  • There is a loss of sensation of hot and cold in the peripheral extremities of body.
  • The affected person might experience tingling or burning sensation in fingers of hand and feet.
  • There might be loss of normal reflexes of body.
  • Sometimes the nerves to esophagus are damaged causing mega-esophagus.
  • All these symptoms are more severe if the person is already suffering from diseases like diabetes or peripheral neuropathy.

Menstrual abnormalities

These changes are very common among female sufferers of HIV. The cause of menstrual abnormalities are variable like fungal infections, poor diet, excessive loss of weight, excessive nausea and vomiting and the inflammation that is caused due to heavy virus burdens. The females might experience either too heavy or too light menstrual bleeding.

No signs at all

This is perhaps the most important sign of HIV infection. Yes, you’ve read it right. Sometimes HIV keeps on progressing and symptoms are so non-specific that people mistake the symptoms of HIV for normal flu or cold that they might have caught during winter season. This is what makes HIV a potentially lethal condition. The reason being the person remains unaware of his condition until the condition has progressed to much later stages.

Conclusion

In the text above, you have read the warning signs of HIV infection. If you experience some or most of the signs then you should not wait any further and rush to your doctor to get yourself checked.

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Published: April 25, 2014 12:13 AM
Next scheduled update: April 25, 2016 12:13 AM
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