Gynecological (GYN) problems occur in all women. They're also some of the most common complications experienced by women living with HIV. GYN problems can be more serious and difficult to treat in women with weak immune systems.
GYN problems range from irregular periods to vaginal yeast infections that just won't go away. More serious complications can include cancers or painful warts on the vagina, labia (vaginal lips), and the anal area (around your butt-hole).
Many GYN problems lack obvious symptoms and can remain undetected. Left untreated, they can further weaken the immune system. Therefore, regular exams to detect problems are crucial, even when you're feeling well and even when you don't have symptoms. Detection and treatment are critical steps to prevent a GYN condition from getting out of control.
A test where something that looks like a long Q-Tip is inserted into the vagina. Cells from the cervix are "swabbed off" and tested for abnormalities. The Pap smear can be uncomfortable, but generally it shouldn't hurt, unless you have inflammation or an infection.
A test where your vagina, vulva, and cervix are examined with a flexible tube called a colposcope that's inserted into your vagina. The tube can detect abnormal growth. This test generally isn't painful (unless it's with a biopsy), but it can be uncomfortable.
A test where a small piece of skin or cells are removed to be tested for cancerous growth. This sometimes accompanies a colposcopy and can hurt.
Changes in periods are common in all women, but they may be especially common in HIV-positive women with lower CD4+ cell counts. These changes may include irregular, heavier or lighter periods, painful periods, or the end of menstrual bleeding altogether.
Tracking your periods from month-to-month is a good idea. Enclosed is a tracking chart. Let your doctor know if you have any changes in your periods. It's important to determine why your period has changed.
One in eight women develop breast cancer over their lifetimes. Self-breast exams are recommended every month. Ask your doctor to show you how. Yearly mammograms are recommended for women over 50.
Track your periods, hemoglobin (red blood cell) count, body weight, viral load, and CD4+ cell counts.
For more information on GYN conditions, read Project Inform's publication, Gynecological Conditions in Women Living with HIV.