Although there is no cure for HIV, early detection and effective treatment can enable a person with HIV to lead a normal life. However, if HIV is left untreated, it can advance through four serious stages. Therefore, it is important to get tested for HIV if you are concerned that you may have been at risk.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks a person’s immune system, impacting their ability to fight diseases and infections. Therefore, without treatment, HIV can be life-threatening. The early signs and symptoms of HIV vary from person-to-person and can easily be mistaken for other illnesses. Testing for HIV regularly helps to minimise the long-term health consequences that HIV can have.
If left untreated, HIV usually progresses through four stages. With access to treatment, most people with HIV will remain healthy and will never experience the late stage. This does depend on how early HIV was detected and how well a person responds to treatment, amongst other lifestyle factors.
The primary infection stage only lasts for a number of weeks, during which the person may suffer from flu-like symptoms such as fever, upset stomach, sore throat or muscle pain. About one fifth of people would suffer enough to see a doctor but HIV is rarely diagnosed on this alone.
At this point, the immune system is starting to react to the virus by producing HIV antibodies and cytotoxic lymphocytes – a process known as seroconversion. A third generation HIV test carried out before this process is complete may be negative or inconclusive.
Aside from swollen glands, a person is largely symptomless at this stage and often starts to feel better. On average, this asymptomatic stage lasts for around ten years, but can last up to 15 years. HIV antibodies can now be found in the blood and therefore an HIV test will give a positive result.
HIV is active within the lymph nodes at this time, infecting new cells and making copies of itself. A viral load test measures the small amount of HIV which gets away from the lymph nodes. This information is very important in the treatment of HIV.
The immune system becomes seriously damaged by HIV over the years. The lymph nodes and tissues are damaged or destroyed. The body cannot continue to replace the lost T-helper cells as the HIV infection becomes stronger and more varied.
Symptoms develop as the immune system fails, and may include weight loss, chronic diarrhoea, night sweats and fever. The symptoms worsen as the immune system starts to slow down. This is the time when infections known as “opportunistic” infections and cancers can occur.
When the immune system becomes increasingly damaged and the illnesses increase in frequency and severity, an AIDS diagnosis is given. AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition. The body’s ability to fight infection and disease is severely weakened due to immune system damage.
It is entirely your choice whether you test for HIV on its own, or as part of a screen in combination with other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Testing for several STIs provides a more complete view of your current sexual health.
Better2Know provides various HIV tests which can be taken at different times, depending on how long has passed after your last incident of concern.
You may decide to test for HIV as part of a Better2Know screen, in combination with other STIs. Testing for several infections, our screens are designed to provide total peace of mind surrounding your sexual health.
If you are looking to get tested for HIV, Better2Know can help you. We can arrange a confidential appointment at one of our nationwide clinics or you can test at home with one of our home test kits. Our highly trained team of sexual health advisors are available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or you can send a message using our live web chat. Speak to us in confidence.
 Avert: Symptoms and Stages of HIV Infection
 WebMD: HIV Symptoms
 Terrence Higgins Trust: Stages of HIV Infection