Top Signs You May Have HIV

Don't Let the Signs (or Lack of Signs) Prevent You from Getting Tested

Here is the bottom line from the get-go: no sign or symptom can diagnose an HIV infection. Only an HIV test can.

However, the appearance of certain symptoms can sometimes hint that an infection has taken place, particularly if you believe you've been exposed to HIV (for example, through condom-less sex or shared needles) or have simply put off getting yourself tested.

Why wait? Today it is recommended that all Americans aged 15-65 be tested for HIV as part of routine doctor visit and that anyone testing positive be given immediate treatment on diagnosis. Not only can this prevent you from getting seriously ill, it can better help ensure you live a long and healthy life.

If you believe you may be infected, either because of an accidental exposure or a niggling symptom that's worrying you, do yourself a favor: get tested today.

An Unexplained Rash

Photo Gredit: U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health

A rash is often the first sign of an HIV infection, although it only appears in two out of every five newly infected individuals. With that being said, it does have a specific appearance and presentation and is often described as being maculopapular. If faced with any concerning or unexplained rash, have it checked by your doctor and use the opportunity to get tested for HIV.


Swollen Lymph Glands

Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Swollen lymph glands (also known as lymphadenopathy) often present in the early stages of infection. Frequently appearing on the neck, below or behind the ear, in the groin, or under the armpit, lymphadenopathy can not only be painful at times but unsightly in more severe cases. If experiencing lymphadenopathy, whether painful or not, take the opportunity to visit your doctor to get tested for HIV.


Oral Thrush

Photo Credit: James Hellman, MD

We have all had morning mouth: that pasty, bad tasting yuck that coats your mouth each morning. But what if the bad taste and white coating don't go away with a simple brushing? Then you may have the most common signs of HIV infection: thrush. Also known as candidiasis, thrush is a sign of a weakened immune system and can often predict the approach of an advancing illness. While it is commonly seen in the mouth, it can also present in the throat and vagina. The appearance may not instantly spell HIV, but it certainly warrants an examination and HIV test.


A Sexually Transmitted Disease

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Photograph © Katie Salerno

While it is well known that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can significantly increase the risk of getting HIV, many people don't fully understand why this is or the ways in which STDs can readily facilitate HIV infection—even in otherwise low-risk activities like oral sex.  It may surprise to some that the body's immune system plays an unwitting part in this by recruiting the very cells HIV targets for infection. While having an STD doesn't inherently mean you have HIV, it increases the odd more than you may realize.


Drenching Night Sweats

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Photo Credit: Ryan Hyde

We're not talking sweat from the flu or an occasional fever. We're talking unexplained, drenching night sweats that can soak your bed sheets through. Night sweats (also known as sleep hyperhidrosis) occur frequently in people with HIV, often because of an undiagnosed opportunistic infection or as a direct result of HIV itself. If you're suffering from night sweats and uncertain what to do, do the right thing and discuss it with your doctor, suggesting an HIV test if you haven't done so. It may not be HIV in the end, but it at least allows a peace of mind moving forward.


Sudden, Unexplained Weight Loss

Photo Credit: National Human Genome Research Institute

Weight loss is a commonly seen in people with long-term HIV infection, usually in more advanced stages of the disease. We're not talking about the loss of few pounds; we're taking sudden, unexplained weight loss of 10% or more. If you've been holding off getting tested and are suddenly shedding a worrying amount of weight (accompanied by weeks of chronic diarrhea), now should be the time to visit your doctor and get tested. Don't delay.


No Signs At All

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As counter intuitive as it might seem, the most likely symptom of HIV is no symptom. This is particularly true during the early stages of the disease, where as many two out of three newly infected individuals will be wholly unaware of their infection.

That's not to say that these very same people might not suspect they've been exposed to HIV. In many cases, if a person has had unprotected sex, he or she might worry for a couple of weeks; if nothing happens and there are no signs of illnesses, they assume that everything is A-okay.

It's important never to assume that not having symptoms is the same thing as not having HIV. If ever in doubt, get tested today. It's easy, it's confidential, and it allows you the means to ensure your good, disease-free health for years to come.

[And, if you ever fear that you've been to the virus, don't wait to take action. Drugs called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) are available, which may avert infection if taken less than 48 hours after unprotected sex or other high risk activities.]


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