Symptoms of HIV

Immediately after exposure to the virus, an infected person may experience “acute retroviral syndrome.”  This is the incubation period, in which the immune system is first being exposed to HIV. The body attempts to have a robust response to the virus; while the body cannot eliminate the virus altogether, it attempts to fight the virus as the virus establishes itself in the body.  Symptoms common during this stage of the virus include:

  • tiredness
  • weight loss
  • frequent fever and sweats
  • lymph node enlargement
  • yeast infections
  • persistent skin rashes or flaky skin

A patient may recall having “flu-like” symptoms at some point, but they may not have gone to a physician or may not have been tested for HIV at the time of the acute infection. After this episode, the HIV establishes itself in the body and the person may feel relatively well for many years, with no negative consequences of being exposed to the virus. During this time, the body and the virus live with some equilibrium, but the virus, if left untreated, will eventually begin to overtake the immune system and decimate a set of essential infection-fighting cells in the body.

Hear from three people living with HIV »

Once the immune system weakens to a certain point, an infected person has developed AIDS and is at very high risk for opportunistic infections that can affect nearly every organ system in the body.  During this period, an infected person may suffer the following symptoms, in addition to the ones listed above: 

  • dry cough or shortness of breath
  • difficult or painful swallowing
  • diarrhea lasting for more than a week
  • white spots or unusual blemishes in and around the mouth
  • pneumonia-like symptoms
  • fever
  • vision loss
  • nausea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting
  • red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • seizures or lack of coordination
  • neurological disorders such as depression, memory loss, and confusion
  • severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • coma
  • development of various cancers