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Getting diagnosed with HIV: Be aware of possible complications

for Veterans and the Public

Be aware of possible complications

By weakening your immune system, HIV can leave you vulnerable to certain cancers and infections. These infections are called "opportunistic" because they take the opportunity to attack you when your immune system is weak.

In addition, HIV is recognized to be an inflammatory disease that affects many parts of the body, not just the immune system. That means that HIV can affect organs like the brain, kidneys, liver and heart and may increase the risk of some cancers.

Certain changes can happen to HIV-positive people who are living longer and taking HIV medicines. Some people have experienced visible changes in body shape and appearance. Sometimes these changes can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes. For more information on body shape changes and opportunistic infections, see HIV-related conditions.

Know when to call a medical provider

You don't need to panic every time you have a headache or get a runny nose. But if a symptom is concerning you or is not going away, it is always best to have a provider check it out even if it doesn't feel like a big deal. The earlier you see a provider when you have unusual symptoms, the better off you are likely to be.

The following symptoms may or may not be serious, but don't wait until your next appointment before calling a doctor if you are experiencing them.
Breathing problems:
  • persistent cough
  • wheezing or noisy breathing
  • sharp pain when breathing
  • difficulty catching your breath
Skin problems:
  • Appearance of brownish, purple or pink blotches on the skin
  • Onset of rash--especially important if you are taking medication
Eye or vision problems:
  • blurring, wavy lines, sudden blind spots
  • eye pain
  • sensitivity to light
Aches and pains:
  • numbness, tingling, or pain in hands and feet
  • headache, especially when accompanied by a fever
  • stiffness in neck
  • severe or persistent cough
  • persistent cramps
  • pain in lower abdomen, often during sex (women in particular)
Other symptoms:
  • mental changes--confusion, disorientation, loss of memory or balance
  • appearance of swollen lymph nodes, especially when larger on one side of the body
  • diarrhea--when severe, accompanied by fever, or lasting more than 3 days
  • weight loss
  • high or persistent fever
  • fatigue
  • frequent urination