In individuals with HIV, heart attack risk is nearly double than that of the general population, says a study. “The actual risk of heart attack for people with HIV was roughly 50 per cent higher than predicted by the risk calculator many physicians use for the general population,” said first author Matthew Feinstein from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, US.
The higher risk for heart attack — about 1.5 to two times greater — exists even in people whose virus is undetectable in their blood because of antiretroviral drugs, according to the study published in the journal JAMA Cardiology.
“There is chronic inflammation and viral replication even in people whose blood tests don’t show any sign of the virus in the blood,” Feinstein explained. That is because the virus still lurks in the body’s tissues, creating the inflammation that causes plaque buildup and can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. Plaque build-up occurs 10 to 15 years earlier in HIV patients than in the uninfected population, the study said.
“It’s this inflammatory state that seems to drive this accelerated ageing and these higher risks for heart disease, which are becoming more common in HIV patients as they live longer,” Feinstein said. For the study, the researchers analysed data from approximately 20,000 HIV-infected individuals.
They compared predicted rates of heart attacks based on data from the general population to the actual rates of heart attacks observed in this cohort and found that HIV patients have nearly twice the heart attack risk. The scientists believe that primary driver of the higher risk was the HIV. Accurately predicting an individual’s risk helps determine whether he or she should take medications such as statins to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
“If you have a higher risk for heart attack or stroke, your ability to benefit from one of these drugs is greater and justifies the possible side effects of a medication,” Feinstein pointed out.