Higher heart disease risk seen in people with HIV

"Young adult man suffering from severe heartache, low light condition"

HARTFORD — With major advances in drug therapy for people with HIV, the risk of death due to AIDS opportunistic infections and diseases have dramatically decreased. HIV is quickly becoming a chronic disease  and people with HIV are now starting to develop regular diseases of aging, most notably hardening of the arteries and the heart attacks, that come with them.

A new study was conducted at Northwestern University and they found that the risk of heart disease in HIV patient is 50 percent higher than would be anticipated based on the risk factors they have. This suggests that HIV itself is a cardiovascular disease risk factor, just one that did not previously reveal itself because people were dying of other things before it could be detected. Now that drug therapy is effective at slowing the progression of HIV to AIDS, this is coming to light. The proportion of deaths for HIV patients due to heart disease has tripled in past 15 years so it is becoming an important issue for the 1.2 million people with HIV in the United States.

With people with any inflammatory disease, be it rheumatoid arthritis or sarcoidosis,  that inflammation in the blood vessels make them more prone to develop atherosclerotic plaques. Even though the drugs can keep HIV virus levels very low, they are still there and the immune system is still overactive resulting in inflammation. In addition, some of the drugs for HIV, the protease inhibitors, are very effective but make people gain weight and this increases bad cholesterol levels and blood pressure as well.

Dr. Michael White of the UConn School of Pharmacy