What are Symptoms of AIDS?

Mary McMahon

The symptoms of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and the symptoms of human immunodefiency virus (HIV) overlap, because these two conditions are caused by the same virus. In the case of HIV, the virus infects the body and can cause an array of symptoms as it undermines the function of the immune system. When the symptoms progress to a certain state, the patient is said to have AIDS.

Symtoms of AIDS include repeated yeast infections and extreme fatigue.
Symtoms of AIDS include repeated yeast infections and extreme fatigue.

In a patient with HIV, flu-like symptoms such as tiredness, coughing, easy bruising, swollen lymph nodes, and headaches can emerge. As the infection progresses, the patient may experience diarrhea, lesions on the skin or mouth, repeated yeast infections, severe headaches, and extreme fatigue. A blood test may reveal that the patient has HIV, which has the potential to progress to AIDS. All of these symptoms are also symptoms of AIDS.

Some people who contract AIDS experience headaches.
Some people who contract AIDS experience headaches.

In order for a patient to be diagnosed with AIDS, two things must occur: the patient must have a CD4 count below a certain level, and he or she must have an opportunistic infection. These key characteristics are the symptoms of AIDS which differentiate AIDS from HIV. CD4 cells are a special type of T-cell which help the immune system to function. In AIDS patients, the CD4 count is below 200, as opposed to over 1,000 in healthy individuals. Opportunistic infections are infections which only occur because the immune system is not functioning properly.

Opportunistic infections are probably the most well-known of the symptoms of AIDS. As the immune system declines, the patient can experience severe infections with organisms which normally do not cause illness in humans, and simple infections like cold and flu can become deadly. Many patients experience multiple opportunistic infections simultaneously, including systemic infections which attack the organs. Death from AIDS is caused by the accumulated damage of such infections, rather than by the virus itself.

Some people experience few symptoms in the early stages of HIV infection, and they may not realize that they have severe medical problems until the symptoms of AIDS appear, indicating that the immune system has been permanently compromised by the virus. If the infection is caught early, before full-blown AIDS has appeared, it can be much easier to manage and treat, and medications can be used to maintain the patient's quality of life and reduce the impact of the virus on the body. With medication, it is also possible to delay the onset of the symptoms of AIDS, allowing the patient to live a more active lifestyle.

Discussion Comments


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