Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in both men and women (it kills 25 percent of Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). And when it comes to people living with HIV, the risk is even greater.
In fact, new studies show that living with HIV caries the same risk of heart disease as living with diabetes. Findings published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases show that increased inflammation one gets from having HIV also creates metabolic changes. As a result, people are likely to have low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, which contribute to heart disease but is, by itself, different from other harms like smoking and alcohol, reports AIDS Map.
Though the lifetime risk of HIV-positive people living with heart disease has yet to be calculated, studies such as the Strategies for Management of Antiretroviral Therapy (SMART) found more heart attacks in HIV-positive people who delayed or stopped treatment when compared to HIV-positive people who stay on their meds.
The data was found by researchers in Boston who sought to estimate the impact of heart disease in HIV-positive, regardless of whether they smoked or not.
After pulling from various data, including health records, results showed heart disease risk was highest for people living with HIV and lowest for the general population — 20.5 percent of HIV-positive men showed to develop heart disease compared to 13.8 percent of HIV-positive women. In the general population, the risk by the age of 60 was 12.8 percent.
Authors of the study suggest heart disease prevention tools need to be in place for HIV-positive people, and that “given that the projected [heart disease] risk among [HIV-positive people] was similar to those with diabetes, we believe that HIV should be considered a major risk factor for [heart disease] and that [HIV-positive people] could benefit from preventive strategies similar to persons with diabetes mellitus.”
A separate study published in the BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care also showed an interesting link between HIV and diabetes. Apparently, people living with HIV are likely to develop type 2 diabetes at an earlier age than all other populations — a 3.8 percent difference.
Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to heart attacks and HIV:
What is cardiac arrest?
It often occurs without warning, and is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat, i.e.. arrhythmia. Heart.org says if the heart doesn’t pump blood to the brain or other organs, a process that is disrupted by cardiac arrest, a person will lose consciousness and will not have a pulse. Death can occur within minutes without immediate treatment.
What are the warning signs of cardiac arrest?
A new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed many cardiac arrest patients experienced warning signs days or weeks before, yet most of them had ignored them. According to researchers, over half of patients experienced intermittent chest pain and pressure, shortness of breath, palpitations, or ongoing flu-like symptoms such as nausea and abdominal and back pain.
What can HIV-positive people do to help prevent heart disease?
Make better lifestyle choices as it pertains to diet, exercise and smoking. While a healthy diet and regular exercise have an overwhelming impact on cardiovascular health, smoking has the largest negative impact on blood pressure and a hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which is already slightly jeopardized.
Always check your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. High levels increase the risk of heart problems. Some doctors will recommend a change in your antiretroviral treatment or other drugs that will help reduce the levels.
Try and control your blood pressure by easing the stress in your life. Obviously, a better diet and more exercise will help make this a reachable goal.