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Aug 01, 2012

HIV Increases Inflammation and Risk for Heart Disease

HIV is now viewed as a chronic condition that can be controlled through medications and healthy lifestyle choices.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system, making the body vulnerable to infection. Although HIV is a lifelong illness for which there is no cure, advances in treatment have helped change the view that HIV is a death sentence. Rather, HIV is now viewed as a chronic condition that can be controlled through medications and healthy lifestyle choices. One thing that many people don’t realize, however, is that HIV can greatly increase risk for heart disease. Why?

For starters, antiretroviral medication has helped people with HIV live so much longer that their risk for heart disease increases with age, just as it would for a person without HIV. But it also turns out that individuals with HIV are more likely to have certain risk factors for heart disease. For example, nearly 2/3 of individuals with HIV are smokers, and many have high cholesterol and atherosclerosis - the build up of plaque in their arteries. And most recently, researchers have discovered that people living with HIV often have chronic inflammation, which can be an important marker of heart disease.

This study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed a total of 81 participants, some of which had HIV and some of which did not. When researchers compared markers of inflammation, they found that those infected with HIV were more likely to have inflammation, which could be a sign of increased cardiovascular risk.

Although it’s unclear whether the inflammation is due to certain therapies or HIV itself, this study opens the door up for ways to further improve the heart health of patients with HIV. Patients with HIV are already encouraged to reduce their risk for heart disease through a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet, physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding tobacco use. But with more research, doctors may find that using therapies to reduce inflammation in patients with HIV could help reduce cardiovascular risk even further. And the more we can do to help reduce risk for heart disease and improve quality of life among those living with HIV, the better.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is inflammation?

  • Inflammation is our body’s natural response to injury or infection. Although inflammation can help rid our body of infections or intruders, it may also be a marker of heart disease.
  • How can I reduce inflammation?

  • Although some drugs might help reduce inflammation, reducing risk factors that cause inflammation is important, like quitting smoking, reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol.

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