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HIV and heart disease
Patient information

  • Why HIV can increase the risk
    of heart disease?

  • Inflammation;

  • Lipid levels;

  • Kidney disease;

  • Erectile dysfunction;

  • Risk factors for heart disease;

  • How to reduce your risk of
    heart disease?

It is important to look after your health because people with HIV have a greater chance of developing heart disease than people without HIV. This is true even for younger people living with HIV.
There are a number of risk factors for developing heart disease and taking care of these is an important part of your plan for staying healthier and living longer with HIV.

Why HIV can increase the risk
of heart disease?

There are a number of ways in which the virus increases the risk of heart disease in people with untreated HIV. These include:

  • HIV-related inflammation in the blood vessels;

  • HIV-related kidney disease;

  • Imbalances in blood lipids (fats) caused by HIV which can lead to heart disease.

In some studies medicines have been associated with increasing heart disease risk. However, through viral load reduction some medicines may help to modify this risk.

HIV can cause inflammation in your body, which can increase the risk of heart disease. 

The longer HIV is left untreated, the greater the chance the virus will cause arteries that carry blood to your  heart to become inflamed and blocked by fatty deposits, which in turn can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Some HIV medicines can protect against this inflammation. Early and sustained HIV treatment means that less inflammation is likely to occur.

Lipid levels

HIV may affect lipid (blood fat) levels. This may cause high levels of triglycerides (a type of blood fat) and low levels of high-density lipoproteins  (HDL i.e. good cholesterol). High levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL can increase the risk of heart disease.

Some HIV medicines may cause small changes in lipid levels, which may increase the risk of heart disease. If you are concerned about your lipid levels, continue taking  your HIV medicines and book an appointment with your doctor to find out more and about managing lipid levels.

Kidney disease

HIV-related inflammation is also linked to a higher risk of kidney disease in people with HIV. 

Kidneys are important for your heart health:

  • They help keep your blood pressure steady;

  • They filter your body fluids and get rid of waste.

HIV can damage the filters in the kidney. If damaged, your kidneys cannot do their job, causing extra strain  
on the heart and an even greater risk of developing  heart disease.

Erectile dysfunction;
HIV can increase the likelihood of men experiencing erectile dysfunction (ED). Most men have occasional times when they cannot get an erection particularly when tired, stressed, distracted, or have drunk too much alcohol. However, some men have persistent, or recurring, ED and around 1 in 10 men with HIV experience ED often.
ED is associated with older age, living for longer with HIV, being of Caucasian origin, hypertension, diabetes, receiving psychiatric treatment, depression, changes in the amount of body fat and exposure to protease inhibitor treatment.

Having HIV is not the only risk factor for heart disease. Smoking increases your risk the most and there are other risk factors too.
You may have a greater risk of heart disease if you:

  • Eat heart-healthy foods (increase fruit and vegetables and reduce saturated fat in your diet);

  • Keep active;

  • Maintain a healthy body weight;

  • Reduce the stress in your life and seek help if you feel depressed;

  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar levels under control;

  • Quit or cut down on drug use, and only drink alcohol in moderation;

  • Stop smoking;

  • Lower your blood pressure if it is high.

Taking your HIV medication as prescribed can protect you against heart disease and related health problems by decreasing HIV-related inflammation. You should also talk with your healthcare professional about your risk factors to determine what you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease.

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