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What are the symptoms of AIDS?

Learn about symptoms of AIDS and AIDS treatment.

Symptoms of AIDS can be treated by a doctor. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Symptoms of AIDS can be treated by a doctor.

In 1995, AIDS was the number one cause of death in the United States for people between the ages of 25 and 44. As of 2006, AIDS has dropped to number five, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health

AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is the fourth and final stage of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Typically, as HIV progresses, the body loses its T helper cells (a type of white blood cell, also called CD4 cells, that plays a key role in immune response). When the T helper cell count drops under 200, HIV is said to have progressed to AIDS. At this point, many people will have acquired an “opportunistic infection,” which would not normally develop in someone with a healthy immune system.

Symptoms of AIDS

Aside from the lowered T helper cell count, there are no defining symptoms of AIDS. However, there are some common symptoms that occur as a result of opportunistic infections, like night sweats, fever, chills, weakness, weight loss and swollen glands. Additionally, there are certain opportunistic infections that are commonly associated with AIDS.

Opportunistic Infections Associated with AIDS

Pneumonia, more specifically, pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), is common in AIDS patients, especially those who have not been treated for HIV. Symptoms of PCP include a mild, dry cough, rapid breathing, fever and shortness of breath. 

Tuberculosis, or TB, usually affects the lungs and can lead to meningitis. The main symptom of TB is a cough that sometimes produces bloody or discolored phlegm. It is very important to take tuberculosis medication, even if the disease is latent or inactive. You are at risk for developing multidrug-resistant TB if you don’t take your prescribed medication as directed because it takes at least 6 months for all the TB bacteria to be killed. 

Candidiasis, also called thrush, is a fungal infection. It is commonly found in the throat, mouth or vagina, and can affect someone with HIV even before their T-cell count drops under 200. Once AIDS has developed, a form of candiasis (called Candida esophagitis) that attacks the esophagus may result in difficult or painful swallowing. 

Herpes simplex virus causes cold sores in the mouth and ulcers in the genital area. This disease is common in those without HIV/AIDS, but outbreaks are more frequent and more severe in those with HIV/AIDS. 

Herpes zoster, better known as shingles, causes painful ulcers and blisters on the skin. Additional symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, taste and vision abnormalities, hearing loss and headache. 

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that can be transmitted through cat feces, often by improper handling of cat litter. Possible symptoms include confusion, blurred vision, muscle pain, sore throat, fever, headache and seizures. 

Other common AIDS-related opportunistic infections include Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymph glands), Kaposi’s sarcoma (cancer of the skin, lungs and bowel), bacillary angiomatosis (skin lesions), cryptococcal meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain), AIDS dementia, cryptosporidium diarrhea, mycobacterium avium (a blood infection related to TB), cytomegalovirus and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. In women with HIV/AIDS, pelvic inflammatory disease, genital warts, vaginal infections and cervical cancer also occur more frequently than in uninfected women.

AIDS Treatment

Although there is currently no cure for AIDS, improved treatment has prolonged the lives of millions of AIDS patients. Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (called HAART), a cocktail of reverse transcriptase inhibitors and protease inhibitors, became available in 1996 and revolutionized AIDS treatments. HAART is the predominant AIDS therapy prescribed today.

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