HIV, short for human immunodeficiency virus, is an incurable disease that often develops into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). More than 25 percent of people who have HIV in the U.S. are women. While both women and men may experience similar symptoms after contracting HIV, the disease can affect a woman's body differently than a man's. For example, women infected with HIV are more likely to develop certain infections or contract certain diseases than men, according to the NYU Medical Center's HIVInfoSource.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV is the virus that attacks the body's immune system, destroying the body's ability to fight off disease. HIV can be found in blood, semen and vaginal fluid, and it is typically contracted through three main ways:
-Having sexual contact with a person who is infected with HIV
-Sharing needles with someone who has HIV
-Being born to and/or breastfed by a mother who has HIV
HIV can also be contracted through infected blood products, although this has become uncommon.
HIV can be difficult to detect early on. A person can live for years without seeing serious symptoms. This is why those at risk for contracting HIV are encouraged to get tested.
Two to six weeks after contracting HIV, a person may experience the following symptoms, according to Dr. James M. Steckelberg, a contributor to the Mayo Clinic website:
-Swollen lymph glands
These symptoms are similar to those of the flu. The symptoms may disappear after a month and other HIV symptoms may not appear until years later.
According to the CDC, the only sure way of detecting HIV is to get tested. The following symptoms may indicate an HIV infection, according to the CDC:
-Rapid weight loss
-Swollen lymph glands in underarms, groin or neck
-White spots/blemishes on tongue, mouth and throat
-Blotches in or under the skin, usually red, pink or brown in color
-Memory loss, depression and other neurological-related disorders
These symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses and alone cannot prove a person has contracted HIV, the CDC warns.
Women who have contracted HIV may have symptoms that are different from men's, and some can appear in the early stages of the disease, according to HIV resource TheBody.com. HIV-infected women are more likely to get headaches and experience fatigue and abdominal problems, such as recurrent yeast infections and pelvic inflammatory disease, according to HIVInfoSource. Women can also develop more frequent and severe vaginal infections, including those associated with other sexually transmitted diseases. HIVInfoSource states that women with HIV may also experience more frequent menstrual problems. Women may also develop anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, a change in body image, diarrhea, cough, fever, pain, weight loss, increased breast size, rash and other skin problems, according to TheBody.com.
To prevent yourself from contracting HIV, you should not have unprotected sex or share needles. You should also be faithful to your sexual partner. The CDC recommends following the ABC's of HIV prevention:
There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. However, medications can make it easier for someone who has HIV to manage her symptoms and live a fairly normal life. Early detection is important to help those with HIV monitor and medicate the disease and prevent its spread to others.
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