After being diagnosed, it’s hard not to wonder how HIV will affect your life expectancy. For HIV-positive people, though, the most important factor in how long you live may not be your positive status but whether you smoke.
A massive 15-year study of 13,500 Europeans recently released its startling findings: There were three times as many smoking-related deaths among people with HIV as in the general population. Even more disturbing was the discovery that positive smokers lost more years of life to their cigarettes than to HIV. Surprisingly, these patients were receiving free and regular antiretroviral care—and still dying at alarming numbers.
“More than 60% of deaths among HIV patients are associated with smoking” rather than HIV, said researcher Marie Helleberg, MD, of Copenhagen University Hospital.
Studies show that smoking is prevalent among people with HIV: about half of those with the virus light up, compared to 19% of all Americans. As antiretrovirals help people live longer with HIV, many are having their lives cut short not from their disease but from lifestyle factors related to obesity, alcohol, drug abuse, and smoking.
The Danish study found that a 35-year-old HIV patient who currently smokes has an average life expectancy of 62.6 years, almost 16 years shorter than a nonsmoker with HIV.
“The loss of years of life associated with smoking was twice as high as that associated with HIV among HIV-infected patients,” the researchers note.
The researchers say their findings prove you should quit smoking now since since “smoking may impact life expectancy considerably more than the HIV infection itself.”