Your body


Reproductive and sexual health

Menstrual changes are not uncommon in women regardless of HIV status. Often, changes are caused by hormonal variations that occur naturally in most women over time.

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Sexually transmissible infections (STIs) like chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes or syphilis can affect any woman but they can have a more significant effect on women with HIV. HIV can cause more severe symptoms and can make an STI more difficult to treat. STIs can also place an additional burden on your immune system.

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Opportunistic infections

The term opportunistic infections refers to a number of illnesses, infections and conditions which occur when the immune system has been damaged by HIV. They are called ‘opportunistic’ because the things that cause them (e.g. viruses, bacteria) are often present in the body and the environment but they don’t cause serious illness in a person with an intact immune system. When the immune system is significantly damaged (for example, by HIV) these common bugs may use the ‘opportunity’ to cause disease. Opportunistic infections can be serious, causing debilitating illness or death. Generally, the risk of developing an opportunistic infection increases as a person’s CD4 count decreases.

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Hepatitis B and C

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus in blood and body fluids. Hepatitis B causes inflammation of the liver and can cause liver fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Hepatitis B is more infectious than HIV.

Hepatitis C (Hep C) is a viral infection that affects the liver. The Hep C virus lives in the blood and liver cells where it can cause inflammation and scarring (called fibrosis) or cirrhosis, which is more serious. Hep C can potentially cause long-term, serious health problems, including liver failure and cancer. However, recent treatment advances mean more and more people will now be cured of their Hep C infection.

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Technically, menopause means stopping having monthly periods (menstruation). It marks the end of your fertility and is accompanied by significant hormonal changes. Most women begin to experience menopause somewhere between the ages of 38 and 58, with 51 being the average age for Australian women. Remember, menopause is a transition, not a disease.

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