Women by nature of their different biology experience HIV differently to men. HIV affects reproductive organs and menstrual cycles and causes other female specific symptoms. Women with HIV may experience hormonal changes, stress and weight loss. There are vaginal HIV symptoms that occur in women only such as vaginal yeast infections, abnormal Pap smears, pelvic inflammatory disease and unusual menstrual cycles.
Hormonal changes may cause changes in menstrual cycles especially with a low CD4 cell count and/or a high viral load. Some of the menstrual changes include long intervals between periods, missed periods without pregnancy, heavier or lighter periods, spotting between period, periods that last longer than usual. Changes in menstrual cycle can also be a symptom of other health problems. However, a missed period can also mean pregnancy.
HIV can affect the body’s ability to produce hormones. These hormones can affect fertility (the ability to get pregnant) or lead to an early menopause (the ending of fertility), particularly if CD4 cell counts are low.
With effective treatment, many women with HIV are likely to have a normal healthy life with normal menstrual cycle and go through menopause something that happens to many middle-age women.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a bacterial infection that can occur in a women’s upper genital tract, including the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries. It can be caused by some untreated STIs such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia, as well as other bacteria infections such as tuberculosis.
Women who are HIV-positive are more likely to have frequent and persistent yeast infections, and these infections are likely to be resistant to standard over-the-counter medications. Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include burning and itching in the vagina/vulva area, soreness of the vagina; pain during intercourse and or urination; whitish, odourless vaginal discharge.
A Pap smear is a screening test that’s used to detect potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous material found within the cervical cancer. A common precursor to cervical cancer in women is abnormal cell growth brought on by HPV (human papilloma virus). HIV positive women are at an increased risk of contracting HPV infection and disease and so more are likely to have abnormal Pap smear results.
Genital ulcers, warts and herpes are more common in women with HIV—particularly those with low CD4 cell count.