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.
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:
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.
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.
HIV-related immune system challenges may contribute to heavy menstrual bleeding in some women.
HIV can lead to general health issues, and women with HIV may experience increased period pain or discomfort.
Some women with HIV may notice changes in menstrual blood consistency, including increased clotting.
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.
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Managing menstrual irregularities in women with HIV involves a comprehensive approach.
Proper adherence to antiretroviral medications is crucial, as ART helps to control the progression of HIV, supporting overall health.
Regular visits to hospitals can help to monitor and manage any emerging health issues, including period irregularities.
In some cases, the doctor may recommend hormone therapy to regulate menstrual cycles.
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.
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.