Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Sep 25, 2018
Last Modified Date: Sep 25, 2018
Published Date: May 24, 2018
HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. It is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids with an infected individual, most frequently via unprotected sex or through needle or syringe use. Left untreated, this viral infection can lead to the development of AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, which is a life-threatening disease. That makes it very important that HIV infection is diagnosed and treated early and getting tested regularly and being well-informed about HIV is the best way to make sure that happens. So, what do you need to know about HIV Symptoms in men?
Early HIV Symptoms in Men
Perhaps the most important thing to know about HIV symptoms in men is that many men do not experience clear symptoms at all, often feeling perfectly healthy for up to ten years after contracting the virus. So, if you suspect you may have been exposed to HIV, do not wait for symptoms to confirm an infection – get an HIV test.
Many men experience symptoms shortly after becoming infected, generally within one to eight weeks after contracting the virus. These may include:
This is often one of the first signs of HIV infection and happens as the virus moves into the bloodstream and begins to reproduce itself. This causes an inflammatory reaction in the body as the immune system works to combat the virus.
That same inflammatory response can make you feel very tired and/or easily tired and winded with exercise.
Frequent and/or persistent headaches are a common symptom in early HIV infection.
Swollen Lymph Nodes
Lymph nodes are part of the body’s immune system. They can swell and become tender in response to the presence of the HIV virus.
Muscle Aches - Joint Pain
Aches and pains are common, especially in areas like the neck, groin, and/or arm pits, where lymph nodes are located.
The HIV rash may appear in small areas of the body or all over, including the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It often resembles boils, which may be surrounded by reddened, itchy skin.
Digestive System Problems
This is a very common early HIV symptom and can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Sore Throat and Dry Cough
This may be short-lived, lasting a few days or weeks, or persistent, lasting for months.
This is profuse sweating during sleep that occurs even in cool temperatures.
Ulcers in Mouth or Penis
These are open sores that can appear with early infection in men, most frequently in the mouth but also on the penis or anus.
Hypogonadism - Poor Testosterone Production
This can occur as the HIV virus builds in the system and can cause low testosterone levels, which can lead to erectile dysfunction.
These early symptoms are collectively known as the acute illness phase of HIV infection. Many people never experience any of them, while those that do develop some or all of them may discount them as a case of the flu or another common ailment. Mistaking them for a simple, common and temporary illness is made easy by their similarity to flu symptoms, and the fact that they tend to disappear after a week or two – even though the virus is still very much present in the body. It is important to note that this period, when the virus has just been introduced to the body and is multiplying, is an extremely contagious phase of the disease – whether the infected experiences symptoms or not.
The Asymptomatic Stage of HIV Infection
The acute illness phase is typically followed by a long period with no symptoms. Men may be in this asymptomatic phase for a period of months or years – often as long as 10 years – and will not feel or look sick. However, the virus is still active during this time, quietly lingering in the system, reproducing continually and beginning to gradually weaken the immune system. It is also still contagious, which means it can be passed to others.
Late-Stage HIV Symptoms in Men
Left untreated, the HIV virus will generally break down the body’s immune system. When this happens, it is typically referred to as late-stage HIV, advanced HIV, stage 3 HIV or AIDS. Men who reach this stage of HIV infection have severe damage to their immune system, making them easy targets for a variety of opportunistic infections. These are infections that a healthy immune system would usually fight off. Symptoms that may occur in men during this stage of infection include:
- Frequent colds, flu, fungal infections and other ailments
- Rapid weight loss
- Frequent nausea and vomiting
- Chronic diarrhea
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic cough and shortness of breath
- Recurring fever, chills, night sweats
- Chronic inflammation of the lymph nodes
- Rashes, sores or lesions on the skin, in the mouth or nose and/or on the penis, testicles or anus
- Memory problems, neurological problems or confusion
Why Regular Testing Matters
While there is no cure for HIV infection, there are very effective treatments. With the use of medications and a treatment called antiretroviral therapy, the virus can be suppressed, stopping it from reproducing itself in the body. This can keep the viral load – the amount of HIV virus present in the body – low, limiting the damage it causes to the immune system. This can help prevent the disease from advancing to the more harmful late stage phase. This type of treatment is most effective when started early. Also, regular testing is your best means of ensuring an early diagnosis, followed by effective, rigorous treatment at the earliest possible stages.
Regular testing is also important to helping you ensure that you are not passing an undetected infection to others. So how often should you be tested? The CDC recommends testing for all men ages 13 to 64 at least once. Men who are gay or bisexual should be tested every 3 to 6 months, as should all men who are sexually active and have more than one partner. Men who have unprotected sex should be tested every year, as should anyone who shares injection drug devices with others.