Every single symptom that is associated with HIV infection looks like a symptom of other illnesses -- in fact, a huge range of other illnesses. It's impossible to tell by someone's symptoms alone whether the problem is related to HIV/AIDS or another medical condition.
Also, it's important to understand that there's a big difference between the symptoms of recent HIV infection and the symptoms of advanced HIV, also known as AIDS.
Recent HIV Infection
During the first few weeks after HIV infection, some people may briefly have some of the following symptoms: sore throat, muscle and joint aches and pains, rashes, chills, night sweats, headaches, feeling generally unwell, mouth ulcers, weight loss, tiredness and swollen glands.
The same symptoms could be caused by many other infections, including influenza, mononucleosis, strep throat, rubella, herpes viruses, shingles and toxoplasmosis.
Following this short period, most people have no symptoms for several years.
Advanced HIV Disease (AIDS)
If a person with HIV has not received antiretroviral treatment, several years following their infection their immune system may be so severely weakened that it cannot fight off other infections and diseases.
This stage is known as advanced HIV disease, or AIDS. It is completely preventable and does not occur in people who take effective antiretroviral treatment.
The symptoms associated with AIDS are those of the other infections and diseases, not of HIV itself. For example, because the immune system is weak, pneumonia may take hold. In this case, the symptoms would be those seen in any other case of pneumonia: fever, trouble breathing and cough that produces mucus.
Because so many other infections and diseases may occur when a person has advanced HIV disease, the list of potential symptoms is huge. It includes lack of energy, weight loss, yeast infections, skin rashes and short-term memory loss.
The list of other medical conditions that could cause the same symptoms is equally massive. A person may have pneumonia, tuberculosis or a cancer that is not in any way HIV related. Other health conditions -- such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other viral infections -- can be responsible for some of these symptoms. A poor diet, allergies, medication side effects or depression can cause others.
Some people try to match their symptoms to those associated with HIV/AIDS. This is not recommended! It's possible to convince yourself you have HIV based on the symptoms, when in fact you have never been exposed to the virus. The only thing that symptoms tell you -- assuming they do not go away, or if they get very severe -- is that you need to see a doctor. He or she can investigate fully.
More on the Symptoms of HIV/AIDS at TheBody.com
To find out more about the symptoms of HIV and AIDS, we recommend the following articles:
In addition, our Q&A experts sometimes address questions about symptoms in our "Ask the Experts" forums. Here are some of those questions and our experts' responses:
- Strep throat? Really?
Ten days after a bisexual encounter, I developed a sore throat, fever and canker sore. My doctor took a look at my throat and insisted it's just strep throat. What do you think?
- Can I test negative but still be positive?
I've had four HIV blood tests in five months, and they're all negative. But what other explanation is there for my symptoms?