What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?


HIV and AIDS are often mistaken as the same term, however both the terms are different and manifest with different patterns of signs and symptoms. HIV is basically the infection of human immunodeficiency virus from possible sources such as sharing intravenous drugs, unsafe sex with partners with HIV or AIDS, healthcare workers who had accidental needle prick injury and more. While, AIDS is a progressed form of HIV when patients usually are immunocompromised and show signs and symptoms of opportunistic disease.

After 1 to 6 weeks of post HIV exposure from the sources stated above, the condition is called an acute seroconversion phase. At this phase of HIV, patients will experience influenza like symptoms such as follows;

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes around your neck and axilla
  • Sore throat and dry cough
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Bleeding over mucosa such as purpura and ecchymosis as a result of reduced platelet in the bloodstream

Most times, these signs and symptoms are missed as they resemble any other flu and influenza like symptoms. It is difficult to screen patients at this stage unless risk factors are identified earlier by the doctor treating.

Left undiagnosed at this stage, the disease will start progressing to a more chronic phase called the chronic HIV infection. At this point of the illness, your specific white blood cells called the CD4 will be reduced and start showing relevant HiV symptoms. The host response to the chronic viral infection will trigger certain inflammatory responses to different systems as follows.

  1. Systemic: electrolyte imbalance such as reduced sodium and reduced potassium which can have hazardous effects towards your heart.
  2. Skin : You might experience recurrent shingles
  3. Heart : Cardiomyopathy and eventually heart failure symptoms
  4. Lungs : HIV related bacterial pneumonia and pulmonary tuberculosis
  5. Renal : HIV associated nephropathy
  6. Brain : Chronic inflammation of the meninges layer (meningitis)

However, the most common presentation at this point of illness is persistent generalized lymphadenopathy characterized by swollen lymph nodes at your neck, axillary, below your jaw and behind your head.

The next and last progression of the illness is called as AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) where patients are very prone to opportunistic diseases such as follows;

  1. Cerebral toxoplasmosis. Central nervous system toxoplasmosis starts with inflammation of the white matter, called encephalitis. At this point, the most common complaint is chronic headache. Later, patients might experience other neurological symptoms such as seizures, focal body weakness and language disturbances such as inability to comprehend or inability to utter appropriate words for questions.
  2. Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. Last time, the organism involved in bacterial opportunistic infection is pneumocystis jiroveci, however, pneumocystis carinii is now more common. You might experience prolonged fever for about a month, with a productive cough. The sputum is usually yellowish and foul smelling, associated with shortness of breath.
  3. Tuberculosis is more prone in immunocompromised patients. You might have symptoms such as night sweats, loss of weight, loss of weight and more. In AIDS, your CD4 count will be as low as 250 and below. This increases the chance for you to get pulmonary tuberculosis. Treatment of HIV coinfected with tuberculosis can be complex and requires intervention from a multidisciplinary unit.
  4. Oral candidiasis. This is also a common manifestation of opportunistic disease in AIDS. White or yellowish plaques can form in your mouth sticking at your tongue, palate and tonsils.

Other than opportunistic infections, you may also experience symptoms of AIDS/ sexually transmitted disease associated cancer like Burkitt lymphoma. Symptoms of Burkitt lymphoma include constitutional symptoms such as unexplained fever, loss of weight, loss of appetite, and night sweats. Apart from Burkitt lymphoma, you may also have symptoms and signs of Kaposi sarcoma.