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What are the symptoms of HIV?

Dr Louisa Draper

"Patients often live with HIV for several years before they are diagnosed. This is because HIV does not necessarily cause any symptoms in its early stages. It is vital that you get tested if you have had unprotected sex."

Dr Louisa Draper

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HIV life expectency
While many illnesses are easily recognised by their symptoms, HIV can be difficult to spot. Not everyone with HIV will experience the same symptoms. In fact, the symptoms vary significantly between patients and they also depend on the stage of the infection.

It is useful to know which symptoms can indicate a HIV infection but you can’t rely on symptoms alone. If you think you could have HIV, you need to get tested.

Common misconceptions

Assumption: If I had HIV, I would have symptoms.

Truth: Not necessarily - many people don’t know that they have been infected. Not everyone gets symptoms and the early symptoms of HIV can easily be mistaken for the flu. If you could have caught HIV, get tested!

Assumption: HIV and AIDS cause the same symptoms.

Truth: Being HIV positive does not mean that you have AIDS. AIDS is a syndrome which occurs during the late stages of the disease. It causes severe symptoms. HIV, however, can be controlled with medication, so that patients with HIV can live without suffering symptoms. Early treatment of HIV can prevent AIDS.

Assumption: If I had HIV symptoms, I would notice them.

Truth: The early symptoms of HIV can easily be mistaken for a common flu or an allergic reaction, especially because they go away without treatment. Many patients do not identify their symptoms as signs of HIV.

I can’t catch HIV from someone who has no symptoms.

Truth: Once someone has been infected with HIV there will always be a risk that they pass it on to a sexual partner. This is true regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms or not. Antiretroviral treatment controls the virus and greatly reduces the risk of transmission.