How Can You Tell If You Have HIV?
The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. You can’t rely on symptoms to tell whether you have HIV.
Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information so you can take steps to keep yourself and your partner(s) healthy:
- If you test positive, you can take medicine to treat HIV. People with HIV who take HIV medicine daily as prescribed can live a long and healthy life and prevent transmission to others. Without HIV medicine (called antiretroviral therapy or ART), the virus replicates in the body and damages the immune system. This is why people need to start treatment as soon as possible after testing positive.
- If you test negative, there are several ways to prevent getting HIV.
- If you are pregnant, you should be tested for HIV so that you can begin treatment if you're HIV-positive. If an HIV-positive woman is treated for HIV early in her pregnancy, the risk of transmitting HIV to her baby can be very low.
Use the HIV Services Locator to find an HIV testing site near you.
HIV self-testing is also an option. Self-testing allows people to take an HIV test and find out their result in their own home or other private location. You can buy a self-test kit at a pharmacy or online. Some health departments or community-based organizations also provide self-test kits for free. (See below.)
HIV self-testing is also an option. Self-testing allows people to take an HIV test and find out their result in their own home or other private location. You can buy a self-test kit at a pharmacy or online, or your health care provider may be able to order one for you. Some health departments or community-based organizations also provide self-test kits for free.
What Are the Symptoms of HIV?
There are several symptoms of HIV. Not everyone will have the same symptoms. It depends on the person and what stage of the disease they are in.
Below are the three stages of HIV and some of the symptoms people may experience.
Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection
Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, about two-thirds of people will have a flu-like illness. This is the body’s natural response to HIV infection.
Flu-like symptoms can include:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. But some people do not have any symptoms at all during this early stage of HIV.
Don’t assume you have HIV just because you have any of these symptoms—they can be similar to those caused by other illnesses. But if you think you may have been exposed to HIV, get an HIV test.
- Request an HIV test for recent infection—Most HIV tests detect antibodies (proteins your body makes as a reaction to HIV), not HIV itself. But it can take a few weeks after you’re infected for your body to produce them. There are other types of tests that can detect HIV infection sooner. Tell your doctor or clinic if you think you were recently exposed to HIV, and ask if their tests can detect early infection.
- Know your status—After you get tested, be sure to learn your test results. If you’re HIV-positive, see a doctor as soon as possible so you can start treatment with HIV medicine. And be aware: when you are in the early stage of infection, you are at very high risk of transmitting HIV to others. It is important to take steps to reduce your risk of transmission. If you are HIV-negative, there are prevention options like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) that can help you stay negative.
Stage 2: Clinical Latency
In this stage, the virus still multiplies, but at very low levels. People in this stage may not feel sick or have any symptoms. This stage is also called chronic HIV infection.
Without HIV treatment, people can stay in this stage for 10 or 15 years, but some move through this stage faster.
If you take HIV treatment every day, exactly as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load, you can protect your health and prevent transmission to others. But if your viral load is detectable, you can transmit HIV during this stage, even when you have no symptoms. It’s important to see your health care provider regularly to get your level checked.
Stage 3: AIDS
If you have HIV and you are not on HIV treatment, eventually the virus will weaken your body’s immune system and you will progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). This is the late stage of HIV infection.
Symptoms of AIDS can include:
- Rapid weight loss
- Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
- Extreme and unexplained tiredness
- Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
- Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders
Each of these symptoms can also be related to other illnesses. The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested.
Many of the severe symptoms and illnesses of HIV disease come from the opportunistic infections that occur because your body’s immune system has been damaged. See your health care provider if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.