The Symptoms of AIDS
There are no real symptoms for AIDS itself. It’s actually the AIDS related illnesses which cause the symptoms.
A person is diagnosed with having AIDS if their immune system is shot to pieces and they have any one of a number of “AIDS defining” illnesses. These are called opportunistic illnesses because they take advantage of the fact that the body can’t attack them, so they go in for the kill – literally in some cases.
In a person with a healthy immune system these illnesses wouldn’t normally be a problem but for a person with AIDS they are lethal. They include a range of fungal infections such as Candida which affect the throat, mouth and vagina and rare forms of skin cancer like Kaposi’s sarcoma.
Kaposi’s sarcoma is a purplish skin lesion which became the face of AIDS back in the 80s. It is usually, but not exclusively, found only in AIDS patients.
Other cancers include rare types of lymphoma (cancers of the lymph glands) and, in women, cancer of the cervix.
The chest infection Pneumocystis Carinii pneumonia is very rare in non-AIDS patients but is quite common in those with the disease. In fact it is the most common AIDS defining disease in both men and women. It can also be a major killer – 78% survive their first bout but just 40% recover from a second attack.
Tuberculosis (TB) is also very common and on the increase among AIDS patients. Another common illness is cytomegalovirus (CMV), an infection which usually affects the eyes. Viral hepatitis, herpes and toxoplasmosis (an infection of the blood) are among other common AIDS-related illnesses.
Salmonella and cryptococcal meningitis, both caused by bacteria, also love a body that can’t fight back.
These infections are serious enough when taken in isolation but for someone with AIDS it is very likely they will be suffering with more than one of these illnesses at any one time. Their symptoms may include coughs, breathing problems, vision loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, severe headaches, difficulty swallowing and stomach pain - to name but a few. In some cases the infection leads to a coma.
Weight loss is very common and in women patients pelvic inflammatory disease can occur. Fevers and sweating, particularly at night, are usually a problem for most people with AIDS.
Around 50% of sufferers will develop some form of nerve damage or problem with the brain as HIV launches an attack – in 10% of people it is often the first symptom. The damage is very gradual but can cause difficulties in thinking, balancing and walking. Any of the opportunistic infections brought on by the condition can also cause damage to the central nervous system.
Doctors can treat the symptoms with intensive antibiotics if they know what is causing the infection. However there will come a time when the body no longer responds to the treatment and it will be one of these infections and not HIV which proves fatal.