About a fourth of all Americans living with HIV are women
Roughly a fourth of all Americans living with HIV are women. If you are a woman with the virus that causes AIDS, you’ll likely have many of the same health concerns as men living with HIV. But you also may have some health concerns unique to women.
Having HIV for a long time and being on HIV treatments could up your heart disease risk. And as your estrogen level decreases with age, your risk of heart disease increases. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, low levels of good cholesterol (some HIV meds trigger more bad cholesterol), smoking and diabetes.
HIV places you at greater risk for problems caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can alter cells of your cervix, which can lead to cervical cancer. Normally your immune system fights off HPV and other viruses, but HIV weakens the immune system, leaving you are more likely than others to become infected with HPV and develop cervical cancer.
Protease inhibitors, a class of HIV medications, can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Symptoms of the disease include unexplained weight loss, changes in vision and fatigue. Being African American, overweight, getting pregnant and having a family history of diabetes also raise your risk.
If you’re pregnant or plan to become pregant, talk to your physician immediately. You’ll need to protect your baby from contracting HIV. Even if you aren’t yet in treatment for your own health, you should take HIV medication when you’re pregnant. To keep baby safe, women with HIV should be on HIV medication by the second trimester of pregnancy.
HIV and medications that treat HIV can lead to osteoporosis, a disease you’re already at risk of developing simply by being a woman and going through menopause. Smoking and a sedentary lifestyle also make you more likely to develop osteoporosis. A broken bone is often the first sign of the disease, so consider having a bone density test to get your bone health checked.
HIV is no longer an automatic death sentence. With treatment that keeps your viral load suppressed, you can live to a ripe old age. In fact, some studies suggest that about 25 percent of women living with HIV are older than 50. That means you’ll need to prepare for menopause. Get screened for health problems linked to HIV and the change of life, including vaginal dryness, mood swings and more intense hot flashes. Don’t skip a yearly checkup for depression. And talk to your doctor about appetite changes, sleep difficulties and alcohol or substance abuse.