While various medical developments have helped manage the transmission and effects of HIV, many women still combat the condition. The struggle is due to the lack of primary health care to help reduce the symptoms. Over the years, misconceptions and myths about HIV have also lost influence in society.
However, women still experience stigma surrounding diagnosis and treatment, meaning that healthcare access is not widespread. Besides the medical developments that allow women to receive specialized STD treatment for HIV, it is still necessary to consult with a gynecologist specializing in women's health.
In doing so, you will undergo a full medical exam that highlights any underlying issues related to HIV early enough. The prompt medical attention will save you from experiencing complications with your reproductive health, as the doctor will advise on specific regimens you can follow.
Numerous gynecologists offering women’s care are available in California. However, you want to get in touch with a medical service provider with a wealth of experience in HIV management in women and understand the different occurrences that affect a wide range of women. With the help of an experienced professional, you can have a comfortable atmosphere, as your trust in the doctor is knowledgeable. We at All Women’s Care dedicate our gynecology and obstetrician services to women in Los Angeles, California. Our reliable team of professionals is happy to support you and offer guidance as we determine the best HIV treatment options for you or your loved ones.
Understanding How HIV Spreads and Affects Women’s Reproductive Health
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a disease that affects the human body by attacking your CD4 cells. These cells are usually a type of white blood cell or antibody whose primary function is to fight off disease-causing microorganisms. Subsequently, when HIV gets into your body, the virus attacks healthy CD4 cells, leading to a drastic reduction in the number of available antibodies to ward off diseases.
Consequently, an HIV patient who has lived with the virus for a long time and without proper treatment will have a lower CD4 cell count than a person who does not have HIV. Moreover, different strains of the virus may inhibit the production of healthy white blood cells, meaning that the existing ones will die off, and your body will not have replacements for the dropping cell count. As a result, your immune system will weaken significantly, leading to a higher risk of contracting different types of diseases.
The Spread of HIV Among Women
Since HIV spreads in different ways, it is essential to note the various means, as they make up a significant percentage of total infections. Firstly, a person may contract the virus by receiving a blood transfusion from an HIV-positive donor. Although medical facilities often conduct due diligence before completing the blood transfusion, several cases of patients contracting HIV from the process exist, leading to a contribution to the total number of recorded infections.
Secondly, you may contract HIV by getting into contact with blood from a positive person’s items. For example, sharing needles and other invasive tools increases the risk of contact with the body fluid, meaning that you could easily contract HIV using shared items.
The most common means of HIV transmission is sexual contact, as HIV falls under sexually transmitted diseases. When the virus first began spreading, most transmissions occurred through sexual contact, whereby partners who had the virus transmitted it by having unprotected sex. The trend continues to date, leaving many affected persons.
For women, the spread of HIV is enhanced based on the genetic predisposition that places women at greater risk of infection. For example, when a woman has sexual intercourse without proper lubrication, her internal vaginal muscles may tear up, leaving openings for the partner’s genital fluids to enter the immune system. Subsequently, if the woman’s partner is HIV positive, sexual transmission of HIV will occur almost inevitably.
Additionally, women who experience sexual abuse, including rape, are more susceptible to the disease, especially if the abuser is unknown to the woman and overpowers her. Hence, when the two parties have unprotected sex, there is a high risk of HIV transmission if the abuser lives with HIV.
Gender roles also play a significant role in promoting the spread of HIV among women. For example, most wives submit to their husband’s sexual requests based on the social construct of a woman’s gender role at home. Thus, if the partner is HIV positive without the wife’s knowledge, she may contract the disease and live for a period without infection knowledge. In these cases, the CD4 cell count may drop to alarming rates, leading to the need for immediate medical attention.
Moreover, women in the commercial sex industry are also vulnerable to HIV infections based on their work nature. Therefore, the rates of new infections are typically higher among the sex workers demographic, creating a higher statistic of women infected and affected by HIV.
The Effects of HIV on a Woman’s Reproductive Health
As mentioned, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus attacks your body’s CD4 cells that should protect you from infections and health complications. Consequently, when HIV takes a toll on your immunity, your body is weaker, meaning it cannot fight off new infections.
In adverse cases, HIV affects women tremendously, leading to the contraction of sexually transmitted infections even without direct sexual contact. The reason behind the quick transmission is that your immunity will be so weak that exposure to small risks become dangerous in your case. Common diseases and complications that may arise from HIV include:
Contracting Genital Herpes
Genital Herpes is a disease that arises from a virus called Herpes simplex. Although different disease strains exist, the herpes simplex strain is the most persistent and common type that affects women living with HIV. Typically, genital herpes is a painless condition that leaves sores or rashes around your labia and vaginal opening.
The condition’s painless nature may make it bearable, but it also contributes to the numerous complications that arise if you do not seek prompt medical treatment. For example, suppose you fail to notice the spread of genital herpes on time. In that case, symptoms may advance to recurrent itchiness in the vagina, foul-smelling pus, and lesions around the vagina. In these adverse cases, the doctor handling your case may order more intensive treatment to contain the condition.
When the doctor diagnoses you with genital herpes on top of living with HIV, you must understand the medical prescriptions you receive and follow them as directed. Mostly, the antiretroviral drugs you will receive are already powerful, meaning that your gynecologist will aim to create a balance with the new prescriptions. Thus, the doctor’s orders are for your benefit, to prevent overpowering the body with too many powerful drugs. It is, therefore, advisable to follow the prescriptions diligently for the best recovery and disease management.
Please note that genital herpes is also transmissible to others by contact on the bare skin. Therefore, protecting your partner should be a priority to avoid a recurrence of the constitution that may become worse and create resistance to the medication you received for initial treatment. Hence, you will have to uphold responsible personal behavior by using condoms when having sexual intercourse or any other sexual contact type with a partner.
Genital herpes is also a viral disease. Therefore, you will not receive medication that treats the condition instantaneously but instead manages the symptoms. Understanding that the symptoms may arise at different intervals is necessary, eradicating any doubts concerning the re-infection rate. When the symptoms reoccur, we recommend scheduling a consultation with your gynecologist to determine whether starting on a new prescription is the best choice for you.
Hence, you will have to uphold responsible personal behavior by using condoms when having sexual intercourse or any other sexual contact type with a partner.
Yeast and Bacterial Infections
Additionally, women living with HIV are also at higher risks of suffering from yeast and bacterial infections, based on decreased immunity levels. Usually, your vagina contains several cultures that perform anti-bacterial functions in the birth canal. Among the various cultures is natural yeast that helps ward off disease-causing microbes. However, when the bacteria overpower the vagina’s self-cleaning functions, your body may experience an overproduction of natural yeast, leading to an infection.
On top of that, the vaginal area will be susceptible to bacterial vaginosis. This condition also arises from the accumulation of too much bacteria from the low immunity in the body. As the white blood cells fight off the bacteria around the vagina, you may experience inflammations, primarily because of the dead cells that accumulate to form the inflammation.
Moreover, women are likely to experience pus discharge based on the dead white blood cells that fight off part of the attacking bacteria. Subsequently, you may experience several different symptoms, leading to confusion and panic. We often advise our patients to avoid trying any home remedies after a suspected infection, as they may worsen the situation.
Instead, scheduling an examination appointment will be more beneficial, as your gynecologist can get to the root of the problem and prescribe effective medication to eradicate the problem. Thus, you want to remain observant of any unusual changes in your normal vaginal state to alert your doctor of any potentially dangerous conditions.
Exposure to Additional Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Doubtless, if your HIV infection weakens your immune system drastically, your body cannot fight off bacteria that cause sexually transmitted diseases. The most common STDs are Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. While most cases include contracting one STD at a specific period, adverse circumstances may reveal multiple infections at once.
The situation arises if you had previously had exposure to the STD virus or bacteria, meaning that it remained in your body for some time, with repressed symptoms because of good immunity. After the HIV infection ensued, your body may have faced a sudden change that caused the dormant virus or bacteria to attack, leading to new conditions.
Your gynecologist will provide elaborate treatment methods for each of the sexually transmitted diseases, taking care not to overpower your body with too many prescriptions. Nevertheless, the doctor must ensure that the infections are not recurrent in your body, as they are likely to become resistant to the medications and pose a significant threat in making a full-term recovery.
Pelvic Inflammatory Complications
Further, cases of complications arising from pelvic inflammations are common in women living with HIV, as the risk of exposure to other sexually transmitted diseases is relatively high. As observed, HIV weakens your immune system, leaving you exposed to STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea that may otherwise only affect you in cases of unprotected sexual intercourse.
After suffering from various STDs, your pelvis will undergo inflammation as a physiological response system to fight off the harmful bacteria that cause infections. The inflammation occurs as your body tries to fill your cells with protective body chemicals that should fight off the bacteria. Since STDs like gonorrhea create very harmful conditions in your reproductive system, you could experience more severe inflammation as an immune response.
Moreover, some women may also experience inflammation around the anus, mainly if the disease-causing bacteria or virus also came into contact with the area. Experiencing significant pain and discomfort may indicate a severe disease progression, leading to the need for drastic medical intervention.
To avoid facing invasive procedures like surgery, we recommend seeing your gynecologist as soon as you begin to feel unusual discomfort. Not only will early consultation and treatment prevent medical complications, but it will also help you steer clear of the continuous deterioration of your immunity.
Increased Risks of Contracting the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Human Papillomavirus is an infection that causes abnormal cells in your cervical area, creating a high risk of suffering from cervical cancer. While cancerous cells may take time to develop on the cervix, you will still be at risk of a condition called dysplasia common in fast-tracked cervical cancer cases.
Transmission of HPV is easier for sexually active women, primarily because most men have a dormant gene that carries the virus in their bodies without affecting their bodies. Hence, when you have sexual contact with a male’s genitals, the virus could undergo transmission into your body, creating a risk of developing into cervical cancer. Please note that you do not have to engage in sexual intercourse for HPV transmission to arise, as skin to skin contact is sufficient.
Hence, you want to be careful of infection risks and receive a vaccine before becoming sexually active. However, suppose HPV is already present in your body on top of the HIV infection. In that case, it helps to undertake a full gynecological examination that will allow your doctor to conduct cervical screening. With a proper exam and diagnosis, you can keep track of your gynecologist’s prevention and management treatment for optimum recovery chances.
The Process of Receiving Medical Care for HIV
When you approach our clinic for medical assistance, we recommend taking a series of tests to obtain an accurate medical history and current body state information. For example, if you come in without undertaking a previous HIV test, we will take you through the various processes that prepare you to learn about your HIV status. Thus, our initial goal is to get you comfortable with the system to help you open up and accept taking tests that determine your current health status.
After agreeing to an HIV test, our medical service providers must take you through pre-testing counseling as preparation for the reception of your health status. During the counseling session, we touch on different issues you can expect to deal with if you turn out to be HIV positive.
For example, we make it clear during the counseling that having HIV does not necessarily mean that you are likely to die sooner or not continue with your life and have spouses. Additionally, we intend to make our patients understand that contracting HIV does not need to invoke feelings of anger or revenge towards the partner suspected of spreading the infection to you, as the negative emotions may cause severe depression cases.
When the healthcare provider is confident that the patient understands the nature and course of action to take after learning a positive test result, testing may occur.
Testing for HIV
The testing process is often brief, as the doctor only needs a small blood sample to analyze and draw inferences. Medical developments now allow patients to use a self-test kit at home or any other comfortable location to undertake the medical procedure. As a result, you can now learn of your HIV status within minutes to determine the next step forward.
When the HIV results are ready, a medical professional will call you in for post-test counseling, regardless of whether it is positive or negative. Since testing positive means that you have the HIV infection, the professional will provide detailed and specific information on the outcome to help you deal with the news in the most positive way possible.
Some vital information that the doctor will provide is the importance of taking your Antiretroviral drugs as prescribed because the medication is the primary source of immunity support. You will also receive nutritional guidelines that aim to help you consume healthy foods to supplement your immunity.
Different ARVs work in various ways, depending on the HIV strain in your body. You may also have to change your prescriptions after some time to combat the mutating viral cells in some cases. As your doctor introduces you to new ARV therapy, he/she will explain the importance of each drug to help you sustain your prescription and uphold your immunity.
Continuous Counseling and Provision of Medical Services
Additionally, you will receive social counseling to help you with society’s gradual reintegration after learning your status. For example, the doctor will advise you to disclose your spouse or sexual partner’s status to help stop the virus’s potential spread. You will also receive information on available support groups for women living with HIV to share and learn from different experiences.
If you plan on getting pregnant while living with HIV, your obstetrician-gynecologist will also provide a detailed medical guideline for you to follow. If you uphold the necessary procedures, you can undergo a successful delivery to an HIV negative baby. Some of the directives that your doctor will issue include:
- Avoid the consumption of drugs, including tobacco and alcohol.
- Begin and follow up on ARV therapy with no side effects for pregnant women
- Take the recommended vitamin supplements to boost your immunity during pregnancy.
Additionally, you will have access to beneficial support groups for pregnant women living with HIV to support you when your loved ones disapprove of the pregnancy. Throughout the pregnancy period, your doctor will update you on your progress and provide supplies of all medication you need to ensure your baby is healthy and safe.
Contact a Women’s Healthcare Facility Near Me
When you receive news on contracting HIV, you may become stressed and hopeless for the future. However, with the right support, you do not have to experience despair, especially with the availability of quality medical provision services to promote the best healthcare for you.
Upon learning of your HIV status, it is essential to contact a certified medical professional specializing in women’s health to determine the best treatment options for you. The medical support you receive will be pivotal in maintaining good immunity and overall great health. Additionally, receiving medical aid from an experienced service provider also opens you up to a loving and supportive community of women going through similar circumstances to ease the mental burden you may experience.
At All women’s Care, we focus on providing the best medical services to women in Los Angeles, California, including those infected with HIV. With our compassionate and highly trained team, you can count on us to deliver the best healthcare and mental support you need to get through living with HIV. To get in touch, call us today at 213-250-9461.