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World AIDS Day: Does HIV affect periods?

If you are living with HIV, which is a major global public health issue, you may have irregular periods and other menstruation-related problems. But are HIV and periods connected?
How HIV affects menstrual cycle
Know how HIV affects menstrual cycle. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 30 Nov 2023, 12:00 pm IST
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Our body’s immune system needs to be strong so that we remain healthy. If a person has the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), it will attack the CD4 cells (T cells), which is responsible for helping the immune system in fighting off infections. HIV can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS, which is the most advanced stage of the infection. As the immune system gets damaged, the body cannot fight off infections. Among various things, one can also see changes is the menstrual cycle. On World AIDS Day, which falls on December 1, let us tell you if HIV affects periods too.

So far, HIV has claimed around 40.4 million lives, and so it remains a major global public health issue, as per the World Health Organization.

The virus is primarily spread through unprotected sexual intercourse, the sharing of contaminated needles or from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth or breastfeeding, says obstetrician and a gynaecologist Dr Teji Dawane.

Know if HIV can affect your periods. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Can HIV affect menstrual cycle?

HIV itself may not directly affect the menstrual cycle. However, the overall impact of HIV on the body’s immune system and health can lead to changes in the menstrual cycle, the expert tells Health Shots. For instance, a missed period can be caused by various factors, and is not considered a direct symptom of HIV. However, the overall impact of HIV on the body’s health may contribute to menstrual irregularities.

Here are five potential effects of HIV on menstrual cycle:

1. Irregular periods

HIV can cause hormonal imbalances, which may result in irregular periods. So, women with HIV might experience variations in the length and intensity of their periods.

2. Amenorrhea

In some cases, women with advanced HIV or AIDS may experience amenorrhea, which is the absence of periods. Six studies related to HIV and absence of periods that were conducted between 1996 and 2010 were included in a 2019 analysis. An association between female participants with HIV status and amenorrhea was found, as per the analysis published in the AIDS journal.

3. Increased menstrual flow

HIV-related immune system challenges may contribute to heavy menstrual bleeding in some women.

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4. Menstrual pain

HIV can lead to general health issues, and women with HIV may experience increased period pain or discomfort.

A woman checking her menstrual calendar
You may have irregular periods if you are living with HIV. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

5. Menstrual clotting

Some women with HIV may notice changes in menstrual blood consistency, including increased clotting.

Are women at higher risk of HIV during periods?

Menstruation itself does not increase the risk of HIV transmission, says Dr Dawane. However, any open sores or wounds could potentially increase the risk of transmission, irrespective of periods.

To know more about HIV/AIDS, click here.

Tips to manage menstrual irregularities in HIV-infected women

Managing menstrual irregularities in women with HIV involves a comprehensive approach.

1. Antiretroviral Therapy (ART)

Proper adherence to antiretroviral medications is crucial, as ART helps to control the progression of HIV, supporting overall health.

2. Regular medical check-ups

Regular visits to hospitals can help to monitor and manage any emerging health issues, including period irregularities.

3. Hormone therapy

In some cases, the doctor may recommend hormone therapy to regulate menstrual cycles.

4. Nutrition and lifestyle

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, can have a positive impact on overall health, potentially helping to regulate menstrual cycle.

5. Psychosocial support

Living with HIV can be challenging, and stress can affect menstrual cycles. Psychosocial support, including counselling, can be beneficial.

Women with HIV must work closely with their doctors to address their specific health needs and concerns, including period issues.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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