HIV/AIDS: Symptoms, Causes, Stages, Diagnosis, and Treatment


HIV/AIDS is a virus that attacks the immune system. It harms special white blood cells called CD4T cells. Without treatment, HIV can lead to a serious stage called AIDS. AIDS is a sickness that can happen to people with HIV. Taking antiretroviral drugs usually stops AIDS from happening to people with HIV. For more research you can also visit the World Health Organization.

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that harms the immune system. Without treatment, it kills a type of immune cell called CD4 cells, making the body more prone to illnesses and cancers over time. HIV spreads through bodily fluids like blood, semen, vaginal and rectal fluids, and breast milk. It doesn’t spread through air, water, or casual content. Because HIV becomes a part of the cell’s DNA, it stays in the body for life. There’s currently no cure, but with medication like antiretroviral therapy, HIV can be managed, allowing people to live for many years. Without treatment, HIV can progress to a severe stage called AIDS. At this point, the immune system is too weak to fight off other diseases and infections. Life expectancy with AIDS is around 3 years without treatment, but with medications, it can be almost normal. Around 1.2 million Americans have HIV, and 1 in 7 don’t know they have it. HIV affects the whole body. You can learn more about its effects on different body systems.

Stages of HIV:

If HIV is not treated, it typically progresses through three stages:

Acute Infections: At this stage, there’s a lot of HIV in the blood, and the body starts making antibodies to fight the virus. People often have flu-like symptoms 2-4 weeks after getting HIV, which can last for a few weeks. This stage is when HIV is most easily spread to others.

Chronic Infection: HIV is still active in the body but not as fast as before. Some people may not have symptoms, but the virus can still be passed on to others. This stage can last 10 years or more without treatment. Starting treatment can stop the virus from progressing to stage 3.

HIV (AIDS): This is the most serious stage of HIV. It happens when the body can’t fight off the infection anymore. Without treatment, people with AIDS usually live around 3 years.

These stages show how HIV can change over time if not treated. But with treatment, HIV can be managed, and people can live longer, healthier lives.

Early Symptoms of HIV:

The first stage of HIV, called acute infection, happens in the first few weeks after someone gets the virus. During this time the virus spreads quickly in the body. The person’s immune system tries to fight it by making HIV antibodies, which are proteins that help fight the infection. Some people don’t have any symptoms during this stage. But many people feel sick, like they have the flu or a cold. The symptoms can be mild to severe and can last for a few days to a few weeks. Early symptoms of HIV can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Rash

These symptoms can come and go, and some people might not realize they’re caused by HIV because they’re similar to symptoms of other viruses like the flu.

What are the Symptoms of HIV?

After the first month or so, HIV goes into a stage called clinical latency, which can last from a few years to several decades. Some people don’t have any symptoms during this time, while others may have mild or nonspecific symptoms. Nonspecific symptoms are ones that don’t point to a specific disease or condition. These nonspecific symptoms may include:

  • Headaches and body aches
  • Swollen glands
  • Recurring fevers
  • Night sweats
  • Feeling tired
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent yeast infections
  • Pneumonia or shingles

Even though there might not be symptoms. HIV can still be passed to someone else during this stage. It’s important for people to get tested if they think they might also have been exposed to HIV.

HIV Symptoms in Men:

Symptoms of HIV can vary from person to person, but they’re similar in both men and women. These symptoms may come and go or get worse over time. If someone has been exposed to HIV, they might also have exposed to other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These can include:

  • Gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia
  • Syphilis
  • Trichomoniasis

Men, or those with a penis, may be more likely than women than women to notice symptoms like sores on their genitals from STIs. However, men usually don’t go to doctors as often as women do.

HIV Symptoms in Women:

Symptoms of HIV are mostly similar in men and women, but they may differ based on the different risks they face. Both men and women with HIV have a higher chance of getting STIs. However, women or those with a vagina, might not notice small spots or other changes on their genitals as much as men do. Women with HIV also have a higher risk of:

  • Getting frequent yeast infections or other vaginal infections.
  • Having pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
  • Experiencing changes in their menstrual cycle.
  • Getting human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

While not symptoms of HIV, women with HIV can pass the virus to their baby during pregnancy. But taking antiretroviral therapy during pregnancy lowers this risk. Women who take antiretroviral therapy have a very low risk of passing HIV to their baby during pregnancy and birth. Breastfeeding can also pass HIV to a baby through breast milk.

Causes of HIV:

HIV spreads when people share bodily fluids containing the virus, like blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk. But HIV cant spread through saliva, so you can’t get it from kissing with an open mouth. HIV spreads through:

  • Anal or vaginal sex
  • Sharing needles for tattoos or drugs
  • During pregnancy or breastfeeding

This usually happens when people don’t use condoms during sex or don’t take medicine called PrEP to prevent HIV. In very rare cases, HIV might spread through blood transfusions.

Undetectable vs Un-transmittable:

HIV can only be passed on if the virus is in certain fluids. If someone has undetectable levels of HIV, it means the virus is so low that a blood test can’t find it. When HIV is undetectable, it can’t be spread to another person through sex. Some people call this “U=U” to mean undetectable equals un-transmittable. When the virus is undetectable, there’s almost no risk of passing it on through sex. But we’re not sure about the risk when sharing needles for drugs. During pregnancy, the risk is very low, about 1% or less. But even if someone has undetectable levels, they still have HIV. So, it’s important for them to get regular blood tests and follow their treatment plan carefully.

Diagnosis of HIV:

Doctors use three types of tests to find and diagnose HIV. There’s a time between getting HIV and when a test can find it. This is called the window period. It can be different for each person and the type of the test used. The three types of tests are:

  • Nucleic acid test (NAT)
  • Antigen/antibody tests
  • Rapid and self-tests

Treatment of HIV:

Treatment for HIV should start as soon as possible after diagnosis, no matter how much virus is in the body. The main treatment is antiretroviral therapy (ART), a mix of daily medicines that stop the virus from making more copies of itself. This helps keep the immune system strong by protecting CD4 cells, which fight off disease. ART also helps prevent HIV from getting worse and lowers the chance of spreading it to others. When ART works well, the amount of virus in the body is so low that tests can’t find it. This is called “undetectable” viral load. But even though the virus can’t be seen, it’s still there. If someone stops taking their medicine the virus can start to grow again and hurt CD4 cells.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is the most serious stage of HIV, a disease that weakens the immune system. However, not everyone with HIV gets AIDS. HIV attacks CD4 cells, which help the immune system fight infections. A healthy adult usually has 500 to 1600 CD4 cells per cubic millimeter of blood. If someone with HIV has less than 200 CD4 cells per cubic millimeter, they’ve been diagnosed with AIDS. A person can be diagnosed with AIDS if they have HIV and get a rare infection or cancer that usually only happens in people with weakened immune systems, like advanced HIV/AIDS. Without treatment, HIV can turn into AIDS within about 10 years. There’s no cure for AIDS and without treatment people usually live around 3 years after diagnosis. However, treatment with antiretroviral drugs can stop AIDS from developing. If someone, has AIDS, it means their immune system is very weak, and they’re more likely to get sick from infections and disease like,

  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Oral thrush
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Cryptococcal meningitis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • The person’s age
  • The body ability to defend against HIV/AIDS
  • Accessibility of quality healthcare
  • The presence of other infections
  • A person’s genetic resistance to certain strains of HIV/AIDS
  • The strain of HIV, as some are drug-resistance
  • Cancer, including Kaposi, sarcoma (KS) and lymphoma

The shorter life expectancy with untreated AIDS is mainly because the weakened immune system makes the person more prone to serious disease and complications.

Symptoms of AIDS:

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It happens when HIV, a virus that weakens the immune system, isn’t treated for a long time. If HIV is found early and treated with medicine called antiretroviral therapy, a person usually won’t get AIDS. But if HIV isn’t found until later or if someone with HIV doesn’t take their medicine regularly, they might get AIDS. Some people might also get AIDS if their HIV doesn’t respond to the medicine. Without the right treatment people with HIV can get AIDS sooner. By then their immune system is really weak and has trouble fighting infections. With antiretroviral therapy, someone with HIV can stay healthy for many years without getting AIDS. Symptoms of AIDS can include:

  • Fever that keeps coming back
  • Swollen glands in the armpits, neck, or testicles
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Sweating a lot at night
  • Dark spots on the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • Sores and spots on the mouth, genitals, or anus
  • Bumps or rashes on the skin
  • Diarrhea that keeps coming back
  • Weight loss
  • Problems with thinking clearly, remembering things, or feeling confused
  • Feeling anxious and sad

Antiretroviral therapy helps control the virus and usually stops AIDS from happening. Other infections and problems from AIDS can also be treated. But treatment is different for each person.

Causes of AIDS:

AIDS is caused by HIV. You can’t get AIDS unless you have HIV. Healthy people usually have 500 to 1500 CD4 cells per cubic millimeters of blood. But if HIV isn’t treated, it keeps growing and destroys CD4 count drops below 200, they’re said to have AIDS. Even if someone with HIV gets an infection linked to HIV, they can still be diagnosed with AIDS, even if their CD4 count is above 200.

Diagnosis of AIDS:

Doctors use three types of tests to find and diagnose AIDS. There’s a time between getting AIDS and when a test can find it. This is called the window period. It can be different for each person and the type of the test used. The three types of tests are:

  • Nucleic acid test (NAT)
  • Antigen/antibody tests, including OraQuick HIV test & Home access HIV-1 test system
  • Rapid and self-tests

Treatment of AIDS:

Right now there’s no cure for AIDS. But treatments can:

  • Stop AIDS from getting worse
  • Lower the chance of spreading AIDS to others
  • Make people live longer
  • Improve how people feel and their quality of life

Lots of people who take AIDS treatments live long and healthy lives. Treatments last a lifetime, but medicines are getting better and better. Some people only needed to take one pill each day.

  • Emergency AIDS pills: PEP
  • Antiretroviral drugs
  • Protease inhibitors
  • Integrase inhibitors
  • Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
  • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
  • Chemokine coreceptor antagonists
  • Entry inhibitors

Prevention of HIV/AIDS:

Even though scientists are trying to make one, there’s no vaccine right to stop HIV/AIDS from spreading. But there are things you can do to help prevent spreading HIV/AIDS.

Safe Sex:

The main way HIV/AIDS spreads is through anal or vaginal sex without using a condom or other barrier method. You can’t completely get rid of this unless you avoid sex altogether but you can lower the risk by being careful. A person concerned about their risk for HIV/AIDS should:

  • Get tested for HIV/AIDS
  • Get tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Use condoms
  • Take their medications as directed if they have HIV/AIDS

Other Prevention Methods:

  • Other steps to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS include:
  • Avoid sharing the needles or other paraphernalia
  • Consider PEP
  • Consider PrEP

What is the Difference Between HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is the top cause of death among people living with PLHIV. HIV attacks the immune system making it harder for the body to fight infections and increasing the risk of TB. HIV are up to 20 minutes more likely to get active TB compared to those without PLHIV. It’s important to screen all HIV for TB when they first get diagnosed and at every follow-up visit. And everyone with TB should be tested for PLHIV. HIV with active TB needs treatment for both TB and PLHIV. The World Health Organization (WHO) says they should start PLHIV treatment as soon as possible, within two weeks of starting TB treatment, unless they have signs of meningitis. PLHIV who don’t have active TB should get preventive treatment for TB to lower their risk of getting active TB. In 2020, there were about 37000 people with both PLHIV and TB in the region, and 59000 of them died. 61% of TB cases knew their HIV status, and 82% of new and relapse TB-HIV cases were getting treatment. About 39% of HIV who were new to care got preventive treatment.


What is HIV and AIDS treatment prevention?

Treatment as prevention (TasP) refers to taking HIV medicine to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. It is one of the most highly effective options for preventing HIV transmission.

Can stress cause HIV symptoms?

Stress and anxiety can also produce symptoms that are similar to HIV in some individuals. The intensity of the symptoms can also vary from person to person. Some may experience very strong symptoms while others experience none at all.

How long can a HIV patient live?

Many people living with HIV can expect to live as long as their peers who do not have HIV. Studies show that a person living with HIV has a similar life expectancy to an HIV-negative person-producing they are diagnosed in good time, have good access to medical care, and are able to adhere to their HIV treatment.

What is the best food for HIV/AIDS patients?

Eat more staple foods such as rice, maize, millet, sorghum, wheat, bread, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and bananas. Increase intake of beans, soy products, lentils, peas, groundnuts, peanut butter, and seeds, such as sunflower and sesame. Include all forms of meat, poultry, fish and eggs as often as possible.

How can I increase my CD4 fast?

Only HIV medications will increase your CD4 count. Nothing else, including multi-vitamins, supplements, or herbal remedies can increase your CD4 count. Looking after yourself is important. For example, eating a balanced diet, keeping physically and mentally active, reducing psychological stress and sleeping well.

Difference between HIV and AIDS?

The difference between HIV and AIDS is that HIV is a virus that weakens your immune system. AIDS is a condition that can happen as a result of an HIV infection when your immune system is severely weakened. You can’t get AIDS if you aren’t infected with HIV.

Can a person have AIDS without HIV?

AIDS is a syndrome, or range of symptoms that may develop in time in a person with HIV who does not receive treatment. A person can have HIV without developing AIDS, but it is not possible to have AIDS without first having HIV.

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