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Menstruation and HIV

what is hiv

HIV can affect your menstrual cycle and disrupt your periods. If your viral load is detectable, HIV is found in the menstrual blood - but if you’re on effective treatment and have an undetectable viral load you cannot pass the virus on.

Does my menstrual cycle affect my risk of passing on HIV?

If your viral load is detectable you can pass on HIV - the risk varies depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle.

The levels of HIV in vaginal fluid vary. They are likely to be highest around the time of your period if you have a detectable viral load.

Someone giving you oral sex will be at higher risk of HIV infection around the time of your period if they have bleeding gums, sores, wounds, a sore throat, inflammation or an untreated infection in their mouth.

If your viral load is detectable and someone gives you oral sex, they can use a dental dam (a sheet of latex) or a piece of latex cut from a condom as protection.

However, the results of the PARTNER study found that if you're on effective treatment and have an undetectable viral load, you cannot pass on HIV. Additionally, the Partners PrEP study found that it can take up to six months on treatment for some people to become undetectable.

Will having HIV affect my menstrual cycle (periods)?

As well as affecting your immune system, HIV can sometimes affect your hormonal system and change the frequency of your periods. This may be the case if you have a low CD4 cell count and/or a high viral load.

Here are some changes to the menstrual cycle that HIV can cause:

  • long intervals between periods
  • missed periods without pregnancy

Tell your doctor if you notice any changes to your periods. You might need further testing.

Other health problems that affect periods:

  • A missed period might mean that you are pregnant, or that you are starting to go through the menopause.
  • Abnormal bleeding (for example, after sex) or very heavy periods could be signs of a health problem and should always be reported to your doctor.
  • Heavy periods can be caused by several factors, including fibroids (growths that develop in the uterus or around it). If left untreated, the blood loss from heavy periods could lead to anaemia (a lack of iron).

More information:

Next: Osteoporosis and HIV ››

‹‹ Back to: Menopause and HIV



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 6/11/2017 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 6/11/2020

Content Author: S. Corkery, NAM

Current Owner: Kerri Virani

More information:

HIV Transmission Risk Persists During the First 6 Months of Antiretroviral Therapy, Mujugira A1, Celum C, Coombs RW, Campbell JD, Ndase P, Ronald A, Were E, Bukusi EA, Mugo N, Kiarie J, Baeten JM; Partners PrEP Study Team
National Center for Biotechnology Information
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HIV treatment as prevention and HPTN 052, Cohen MS1, McCauley M, Gamble TR
National Center for Boiotechnology Information
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Sexual Activity Without Condoms and Risk of HIV Transmission in Serodifferent Couples When the HIV-Positive Partner Is Using Suppressive Antiretroviral Therapy, Journal of the American Medical Association: Alison J. Rodger, MD; Valentina Cambiano, PhD; Tina Bruun, RN; Pietro Vernazza, MD; Simon Collins; Jan van Lunzen, PhD; Giulio Maria Corbelli; Vicente Estrada, MD; Anna Maria Geretti, MD; Apostolos Beloukas, PhD; David Asboe, FRCP; Pompeyo Viciana, MD1; Félix Gutiérrez, MD; Bonaventura Clotet, PhD; Christian Pradier, MD; Jan Gerstoft, MD; Rainer Weber, MD; Katarina Westling, MD; Gilles Wandeler, MD; Jan M. Prins, PhD; Armin Rieger, MD; Marcel Stoeckle, MD; Tim Kümmerle, PhD; Teresa Bini, MD; Adriana Ammassari, MD; Richard Gilson, MD; Ivanka Krznaric, PhD; Matti Ristola, PhD; Robert Zangerle, MD; Pia Handberg, RN; Antonio Antela, PhD; Sris Allan, FRCP; Andrew N. Phillips, PhD; Jens Lundgren, MD
JAMA. 2016;316(2):171-181. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.5148

More confidence on zero risk: still no transmissions seen from people with an undetectable viral load in PARTNER study, Gus Cairns, NAM, Aidsmap, July 2016

Vaginal and cervical secretions
NAM Aidsmap

NAM Aidsmap

NAM Aidsmap

Oral sex
NAM Aidsmap
January 2016

Stopped or missed periods
NHS Choices
July 2016

Heavy periods
NHS Choices
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Ezechi OC et al. Effect of HIV-1 infection and increasing immunosuppression on menstrual function. Fourth IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention, Sydney, abstract MOPDB02, 2007.

Benki S et al. Cyclic shedding of HIV-1 RNA in cervical secretions during the menstrual cycle. J Infect Dis 189: 2192-2201, 2004.

Sheth AN et al. HIV-1 genital shedding is suppressed in the setting of high genital antiretroviral drug concentrations throughout the menstrual cycle. J Infect Dis, advance online publication ahead of print, 2014.

Viral load, Michael Carter, Greta Hughson, NAM, Aidsmap, March 2014