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Women, Hormones and HIV

October 24, 2015

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Women, Hormones and HIV

Table of Contents

Hormone Basics

Hormones are chemicals in your body that are carried in your blood stream and send messages between different organs. They are formed in glands and organs, and they control all sorts of processes in the body. Hormones have an effect on your growth, metabolism (your body's chemical processes), sex drive, and ability to have children.

Hormones and HIV

Studies have shown that HIV can affect the body's ability to make hormones and keep healthy hormone levels. There are many types of hormones. The hormones that seem to be particularly affected by HIV are the following:

  • Estrogen and progesterone: female sex hormones that are made in the ovaries
  • Testosterone: male sex hormone found in small amounts in women's bodies. Testosterone is made in the adrenal glands (located just above the kidneys) and in the ovaries.
  • DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone): steroid hormone that may be connected with immune function and energy. DHEA is made in the adrenal glands and sex hormones are made from it.

Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA levels naturally get lower as you age. Changes in one of these hormones can affect the levels of the others.

Some drugs that are used to treat HIV-related conditions can also affect hormone levels. These include:

  • Cytovene (ganciclovir)
  • Megace (megestrol acetate)
  • Nizoral (ketoconazole)

Experts believe that hormones, especially growth hormone, are also connected to wasting and lipodystrophy, a group of fat-related body changes that appear in some people living with HIV (HIV+). However, more research is needed in this area.

Problems Caused by Irregular Hormone Levels

Changes in your hormone levels can affect many of your body's functions. Some of the symptoms that are caused by hormone level changes include:

  • Abnormal menstrual cycles, possibly including early menopause for women living with HIV
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Decreased bone density
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Difficulty getting pregnant

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important that you see your health care provider, who can check your hormone levels and address any problems.

Women living with HIV who experience sweats at night may be misdiagnosed as having menopause-related hot flashes, when in fact their sweats may be the result of HIV infection and related conditions such as "wasting." Vaginal dryness can be mistaken for a yeast infection. It is important to keep track of your cycles and report anything unusual to your health care provider so that you can find the cause of your symptoms. For more information about menstrual problems and HIV, see The Well Project's article on Menstrual Changes.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.

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Newly Diagnosed? Words of Encouragement from HIV-Positive Women
What Did You Expect While You Were Expecting?
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