How Does HIV Impact Women’s Health?

Woman talking to her doctor

Since the earliest cases of HIV were reported in the 1980s, advancements in medicine have made it possible for people who are HIV positive to lead long and fulfilling lives. HIV is still a life-altering disease. however; so understanding how it impacts your body will help you manage it successfully. Here’s a closer look at the relationship between HIV and women’s health.

How HIV Affects Women’s Reproductive Health

Research points to a correlation between being HIV positive and certain gynecological issues. For one, women who are HIV positive may experience more severe symptoms from STDs such as genital herpes and pelvic inflammatory disease. Other gynecological conditions, including bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections, are also more common in people with HIV. Frustratingly, because HIV impacts your immune system, these conditions can be more challenging to treat if you’re HIV positive.

For some women, HIV can also cause menstrual cycle abnormalities. There’s some evidence to suggest that the tissue in your reproductive system experiences HIV-related changes, which can lead women who are HIV positive to experience missed periods.

Though planning for pregnancy can become challenging when your cycle becomes inconsistent, if you’re HIV positive and trying to get pregnant, it’s still possible to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy. You may be a good candidate for fertility treatments if your period is irregular, so speak with your provider before trying to conceive. There are also steps you can take during and after pregnancy to greatly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to your baby. In fact, the risk is reduced to just one percent for women who continue taking HIV medications, avoid breastfeeding, and have a C-section birth.

The Link Between HIV & Other Diseases

While heart disease is the leading cause of death for all women in the U.S., the risk is even greater among women living with HIV. Experts haven’t yet established why people with HIV are more likely to get heart disease, but one suspected cause is body-wide inflammation — a hallmark characteristic of HIV. Still, there are lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of heart disease: eat plenty of wholesome foods, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking.

Being HIV positive is also associated with an elevated risk of cervical cancer. The disease that causes cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV) is more prevalent in women with HIV. The good news is that advancements like Pap tests and the HPV vaccine have made cervical cancer almost entirely preventable. If you haven’t already received your HPV vaccine, talk to your provider about getting it, and be sure to continue going for Pap tests regularly.

HIV’s Impact on Aging

While medicine has afforded HIV positive women a longer lifespan, the caveat is that they’re likely to experience some of the less pleasant aspects of aging — and they may be more intense. Menopause and osteoporosis are issues for all women to watch for, but women with HIV sometimes experience them earlier. Symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, can also be more severe. Since menopause causes a decrease in estrogen (a hormone that supports immune function), it’s critical to continue following your medication regimen as you age. Bone loss also may be accelerated if you have HIV, which is compounded by the fact that certain HIV drugs have an increased risk of osteoporosis.

If you have HIV, it’s important to take care of all aspects of your health. Avant Gynecology is here to support you with comprehensive women’s health services. To schedule an appointment, call 404-352-2850 or send us a message online.