05 March 2013

HIV may raise risk of heart attack

People living with HIV may face a greater chance of suffering a heart attack, a new study indicates.


People living with HIV may face a greater chance of suffering a heart attack, a new study indicates.

Researchers looked at data on more than 82 000 US veterans, and found that there were 871 heart attacks in this group over a median follow-up of 5.9 years. The investigators also found that HIV-positive people had a "consistently and significantly higher" risk of heart attack across three decades of their lives.

Among the veterans, heart attack events per 1 000 people per year were: at ages 40 to 49, 2.0 for those with HIV and 1.5 for those who did not have HIV; at ages 50 to 59, 3.9 for those with HIV versus 2.2 for those without HIV; at ages 60 to 69, 5.0 for those with HIV versus 3.3 for those without HIV.

What the study found

After accounting for other risk factors, the researchers calculated that people with HIV have an overall 48% increased risk of heart attack.

The findings may not be applicable to women because the patients included in the study were overwhelmingly male, study author Dr Matthew Freiberg, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and colleagues noted in a journal news release.

The success of antiretroviral therapy means that HIV-infected people are living longer, and are now at greater risk for heart disease, the authors added.

While the study found an association between HIV and increased risk of heart attack in the veterans, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

However, the findings show "a clear and consistent excess risk" of heart attack in HIV-positive people across a range of age groups, Patrick Mallon, from the University College Dublin in Ireland, wrote in an accompanying commentary. He added that further research is needed to learn more about the causes of this increased risk and how to reduce it.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about HIV and the heart.

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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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