JUL 19, 2018 9:10 AM PDT

HIV Infection Doubles Risk of Heart Disease

WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Williams

In 2016, 36.7 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS, 2.1 million were children under the age of 15, with 5,000 new infections per day. One million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2016, with a total of 35 million deaths since the start of the epidemic. Recent research has now shown that individuals infected with HIV are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) spreads through body fluids and attacks the body’s immune system, specifically T cells. T cells are an important component of our immune response, when large numbers of T cells are destroyed the body can’t fight off infections and other diseases. This leads to opportunistic infections or cancers that take advantage of a weakened immune system. HIV is transmitted by certain body fluids: blood, semen, rectal and vaginal fluids, and breast milk. Most commonly, this occurs through sexual behaviors or needle/syringe use. The most advanced phase of HIV is AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency deficiency syndrome), the immune system is badly damaged in this phase and individuals become incredibly susceptible to life-threatening opportunistic infections. No effective cure currently exists, only treatment of symptoms and use of therapies (antiretrovirals) to control HIV. With advances in anti-retroviral therapies, most deaths in HIV patients are now due to non-communicable illnesses such as heart disease.

A recent study from the University of Edinburgh, funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in Circulation, looked at the association between heart disease and HIV on a national, regional and global level. They utilized 5 databases to look at 153 countries and 800,000 people, assessing rate of heart disease in individuals with HIV and the number of years lost from death or ill-health in each country, referred to as the “health burden”. Over the last 26 years the rate of heart disease due to HIV increased from 0.36% to 0.92%, and the years lost from death/ill-health from 0.74 to 2.57 million. Researchers found that two-thirds of the burden of HIV-associated heart disease was in sub-Saharan African and Asia Pacific regions, with the highest burden observed in Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho. The rate of heart disease in HIV infected individuals was 61.8 per 10,000 persons per year, while heart disease rates in those without HIV was 2.16.

Currently the link between heart disease and HIV is not fully understood. Scientists believe that HIV may cause inflammation of blood vessels which puts pressure on the cardiovascular system. It is also possible that increased fat levels in the blood during HIV infection affects the body’s ability to regulate sugar levels which may contribute to heart disease. This study has many important implications and emphasizes the importance of planning preventative policies in low resource countries where HIV rates remain high and heart disease is growing.  "The effects of one disease on another are often poorly understood. But, with an ageing population, the number of people living with more than one disease will continue to rise. It's essential we build our understanding of the interplay between conditions, so we can give patients the best treatments and advice." Said Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation.

To read this study click here. TO learn more about the science behind HIV/AIDS watch the video below!

Sources: HIV.gov

About the Author
  • Caitlin holds a doctorate degree in Microbiology from the University of Georgia where she studied Mycoplasma pneumoniae and its glycan receptors. She received her Bachelor's in Biology from Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!). She has a passion for science communication and STEM education with a goal to improve science literacy. She enjoys topics related to human health, with a particular soft spot for pathogens.
You May Also Like
MAY 11, 2020
Cardiology
Urbanization and Cardiometabolic Risk
MAY 11, 2020
Urbanization and Cardiometabolic Risk
A recent study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) was first to analyze the possible connection betw ...
MAY 15, 2020
Cardiology
Cardiovascular Disease Mortality is Greater in Rural Areas
MAY 15, 2020
Cardiovascular Disease Mortality is Greater in Rural Areas
A wide variation in cardiovascular disease mortality rates has been noted among counties in the United States. Residents ...
JUN 08, 2020
Cardiology
Long Working Hours Associated with Ischemia in Men
JUN 08, 2020
Long Working Hours Associated with Ischemia in Men
According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association's Stroke, males who work ...
JUL 14, 2020
Cardiology
Changing Your Doctor Can Cause Confusion in Your Chart
JUL 14, 2020
Changing Your Doctor Can Cause Confusion in Your Chart
Nowadays, many people’s lifestyle sees them move on to better pastures every few years. Staying in one place is no ...
JUL 28, 2020
Cardiology
Looking to Newborns for Help Healing Scars on the Heart
JUL 28, 2020
Looking to Newborns for Help Healing Scars on the Heart
Scars are a badge of honor to many, but they are really just a consequence of the body’s repair response. The body ...
SEP 16, 2020
Cardiology
Stem Cells Can Generate a 3D Mini-Model of the Heart
SEP 16, 2020
Stem Cells Can Generate a 3D Mini-Model of the Heart
The heart is a special organ, and while we know a lot about how it develops, there are still mysteries.
Loading Comments...