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Higher Heart Disease Risk Seen in People with HIV

  • Jessica Berman

Current methods of predicting heart attack and stroke risk vastly underestimate the problem in patients with HIV, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Cardiology.

Based on a study of 20,000 people infected with HIV, investigators found their risk of heart events is nearly twice that of the general population.

Researchers at Northwestern University School of Medicine found the elevated risk even in those in whom the virus was undetectable because of the use of antiretroviral drugs.

Matthew Feinstein, a cardiovascular fellow at Northwestern, says it appears chronic inflammation — caused by continued viral replication even in treated HIV patients — contributes to the higher incidence of heart attack and stroke.

The disease activity causes the formation of plaque 10 to 15 years earlier in HIV patients than in the uninfected population, he said.

The data analyzed in the study of HIV patients at a number of centers was compared to the predicted heart disease rates in the general population.

Investigators found the risk of heart disease was higher in those infected with HIV regardless of age, sex or race.

HIV, said Feinstein, appears to accelerate aging in those with the AIDS virus, thus increasing the risk for heart disease. As individuals taking antiretroviral drugs live longer, researchers expect heart disease in this group will become more common.

An estimated 35- to 40-million people around the globe are infected with the AIDS virus or living with the disease.

Investigators said more research is needed to include a larger pool of HIV patients to get a more accurate picture of the problem. That’s because predicting heart disease risk in the general population is generally based on more than 200,000 individuals.

A study published earlier this year found individuals with HIV had more scarring in the heart muscle after an attack, suggesting that they don’t heal as well as uninfected people.

A trial is underway to see whether drugs commonly used to manage heart disease in the general population, like statin medications, benefit people infected with HIV.

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