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Breaking the Taboo: Everything about HIV in Women

Dr. Pankaj Mandale 575 Views
Updated: 05 Apr 2024
Published: 05 Apr 2024

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS, which is the late stage of HIV infection. The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get an HIV testing. If you test positive, you can take medicine to treat HIV. Most people with HIV can live long and healthy lives if they get and stay on treatment.

HIV testing

It is recommended that everyone from 13-65 years of age should get themselves tested for HIV as part of routine checkups. Every pregnant woman also must take an HIV test to prevent prenatal HIV.

Some risk factors for contracting HIV include the following:-

  • Having vaginal or anal intercourse with someone who does not know their HIV status or who has HIV but is not on antiretroviral treatment
  • Injecting narcotics and sharing needles or syringes
  • having a sexually transmitted infection, like syphilis
  • Transgender women who have sex with men who have male sexual partners
  • Multiple sexual partners

Early Symptoms of HIV in Women

After 2-4 weeks, women may feel like they have the flu, which may last a few weeks. The virus rapidly multiplies during this phase as the body goes through seroconversion. You should immediately consult a doctor and get HIV testing if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Low-grade fever
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Night sweats
  • Sore throat
  • Joint pain

Stages of HIV

Stage 1- Acute HIV Infection

  • People with high levels of HIV in their blood are highly infectious.
  • Many people get flu-like symptoms.
  • If you have flu-like symptoms and suspect you've been exposed to HIV, get tested immediately.

Stage 2- Chronic HIV Infection

  • This stage is also called asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency.
  • HIV remains active and continues to multiply in the body.
  • People may not exhibit any symptoms or become ill during this phase, yet they can transmit HIV.
  • People who take HIV treatment as indicated may never progress to Stage 3 (AIDS).
  • Without HIV treatment, this stage may last a decade or more, or it may advance more quickly. After this stage, the amount of HIV in the blood (viral load) increases, and the person may progress to Stage 3 (AIDS).

Stage 3: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

  • This is the most severe stage of HIV infection.
  • People with AIDS can have a high viral load and quickly spread HIV to others.
  • People with AIDS have severely compromised immune systems. They may develop a rising number of opportunistic infections or other dangerous disorders.
  • Without proper HIV treatment, persons with AIDS typically live about three years.

How does HIV affect women differently from men?

Complications such as:

  • Repeated vaginal yeast infections.
  • Severe pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
  • A higher risk of cervical cancer.
  • Menstrual cycle problems.
  • A higher risk of osteoporosis.
  • A higher risk of heart disease, especially heart attacks.
  • Entering menopause younger or having more severe hot flashes.
  • Different, sometimes more severe, side effects from the medicines that treat HIV.
  • Drug interactions between some HIV medicines and hormonal birth control.
  • The risk of giving HIV to their baby during pregnancy or childbirth.

HIV Diagnosis

There are several types of HIV testing. As soon as you develop the symptoms mentioned above and you notice that they have lasted for a week or 2, immediately get yourself tested for HIV:

HIV tests include-

  • Antibody tests: These tests detect HIV antibodies, also known as immune system proteins, in blood or saliva samples. Typically, rapid, and at-home tests are antibody tests. They cannot detect HIV in its early stages.
  • Antigen/antibody tests: These tests detect HIV antibodies and antigens (viral components) in the blood. Antigen/antibody testing cannot detect HIV in its early stages.
  • Nucleic acid tests: These tests check for the presence of HIV's genetic material in the blood and can detect the virus early.

Anyone who believes they have contracted the virus and is experiencing early symptoms should consult their doctor for a nucleic acid test.

Issues that Affect HIV Treatment in Women

Everyone living with HIV should receive HIV treatment (also known as antiretroviral therapy or ART). Treatment with HIV medications allows HIV patients to enjoy long, healthy lives. ART also lowers the risk of HIV transmission.

People with HIV should begin taking medications as soon as possible after being diagnosed. However, birth control and pregnancy are two concerns that can influence HIV treatment in women.

Birth Control: Some HIV medications can affect the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives, including birth control tablets, patches, rings, or implants. Women who take certain HIV medications may need to utilise an extra or different method of birth control.

Pregnancy: Women with HIV use HIV medications during pregnancy and childbirth to limit the risk of HIV transmission and safeguard their health.

The choice of an HIV treatment regimen during pregnancy is determined by several criteria, including a woman's current or previous usage of HIV medications, any other medical issues she may have, and the results of drug resistance tests. In general, pregnant women with HIV can take the same HIV treatment regimens as non-pregnant people unless the risks to the pregnant woman or her infant outweigh the benefits of the regimen.

A woman's HIV treatment regimen may vary during pregnancy. Women and their healthcare professionals should talk about whether an HIV treatment plan needs to be changed during pregnancy.

HIV Treatment

While there is no cure for HIV, doctors can prescribe drugs that prevent or slow the virus's replication. These treatments are known as antiretroviral therapy, and there are various varieties.

A person may need to take one to three drugs every day, depending on their needs. Ideally, if a person takes antiretroviral medications as prescribed, the virus will stop multiplying, and the immune system can handle those that remain. The virus's levels may drop to the point where they are undetectable. However, HIV remains in the body, and if a person quits taking their drugs, the virus may begin to multiply again.

To summarise, HIV is a significant health concern for women worldwide, needing continued efforts in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Access to comprehensive healthcare services, including HIV testing, antiretroviral therapy, mental health, and social assistance, is crucial in tackling HIV's complex difficulties in women.

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