HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus and is the precursor to AIDS. The virus damages the body's ability to fight off bacteria and viruses that cause disease, leaving those with the condition vulnerable to a variety of illnesses. While some people can live long, fairly healthy lives with HIV -- without advancing to AIDS -- it still is a serious condition that requires medication and active monitoring. Most people contract HIV through sexual activity.
Rashes are a common HIV symptom, and can often be mistaken for rosacea or eczema. Rough, scaly red skin patches, especially on the face and around the genitals are common early symptoms. Places where the body often sweats, like the creases of elbows, knees, and the tops of the thighs, are also common sites for HIV-associated rashes.
Flu-like symptoms are common early on in the progression of HIV, and often people confuse the two. Low-grade fever that doesn't go away after a few days and a sore throat might indicate the presence of the HIV. The virus causes a weakened immune system, and fever is the body's response to fighting off infection. Some women never exhibit more than mild flu-like symptoms -- sometimes it takes years for other symptoms to develop. A physician should evaluate any persistent low-grade fever -- between 99.8°F (37.7°C) and 100.8°F (38.2°C) -- that doesn't respond to treatment.
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Severe headaches that encircle the entire head are another common HIV symptom as the virus replicates in the body. They are also a side effect of the virus attacking the immune cells of the body, weakening the immune system. Women with persistent headaches, especially those who do not have a history of headaches, may want to take an HIV test. Over-the-counter medications may affect the health of the spleen and liver, so checking with a doctor is best when one thinks a headache could have a serious cause.
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Swollen lymph nodes are another early, flu-like symptom of HIV. Lymph nodes are located in either side of the neck, below the ears. They're also found under the arms and in the groin. These glands are part of the immune system and swell in response to infection. Swollen lymph nodes may also indicate swelling of the spleen, which can be serious. Many women can feel swollen lymph nodes in the neck and see them in the armpits and the groin.
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Persistent nausea, inability to keep food or water down, and vomiting are HIV symptoms that appear early and can last through the duration of the disease. Some women may also experience diarrhea. Women with HIV who experience chronic nausea and vomiting should consult with a nutritionist and physician, as these symptoms can result in dehydration and malnutrition.
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HIV mimics the flu, and chronic fatigue is another symptom. Chronic fatigue isn't just being sleepy, it is defined as a general and pervading feeling of exhaustion. HIV attacks the immune system and the entire body, leaving many people weak. If fatigue does not go away after a few weeks, one should consult a physician. Excess caffeine, while it may bring temporary relief, may have a negative effect on swollen lymph nodes or an inflamed spleen.
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A more advanced symptom of HIV is lesions in and around the mouth and lips that resemble canker sores or cold sores. They are an expression of a depressed immune system and are characterized by white or pale yellow or green "heads" and a raised surface. Many women report these lesions come and go and are painful. Over-the-counter treatments such as teething ointment may offer relief.
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As HIV progresses, many women become more susceptible to urinary tract or yeast infections in the vagina; these are primary characteristics of later-stage HIV, as is bacterial vaginosis. While the underlying cause requires a strict medical regime, OTC medicines can treat yeast infections themselves. A physician may also recommend antibiotics to treat vaginal infections.
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The low-grade fever associated with the early stages of HIV in women also causes night sweats, though a fever does not have to present. Women with HIV may wake up soaked in sweat, sometimes with accompanying chills. There are few over the counter treatments for night sweats, but drinking plenty of water can help reduce the frequency and intensity and prevent dehydration.
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A general achy feeling, especially around major joints like the hips and shoulders, is another early HIV symptom in women. Soreness, similar to that felt after an intense workout, is another. HIV creates inflammation in the body, especially as the immune system weakens. A heating pad can soothe the aches, and medication can ease more severe pain.
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