Atherosclerosis has been noted in HIV patients. For a while it had been thought that certain therapies like antiretroviral therapies (ART) may have been contributing factors; other factors included smoking. New research is showing that this may not necessarily be the cause of cardiovascular disease in each case.

Studies have been conducted on HIV-positive patients in regard to smoking, ART and cardiovascular disease. However, the results were muddled, and understanding the exact nature of the relationships between each factor remained unclear. In a newer, recently-concluded study, some of these relationships were cleared up.

A group of participants were followed for 2 years consisting of HIV-positive patients, some who had never had ART, and others who were currently on the therapy. Neither group contained smokers—actually, no participant had ever smoked. There was also a control group of 50 individuals with no history of HIV infection. Each person was tested as to their cardiovascular health by measuring the thickness of their carotid intima-media. This precursor to arteriosclerosis would give insight as to which individuals were most at risk. What researchers found was that those most at risk for cardiovascular disease were patients who had been infected with HIV for over 8 years. This included those who had never been on antiretroviral therapy.

Those with a long history of HIV infection had more inflammation and were less receptive to anti-inflammatory drugs. This is significant because this weakened response is common in those at risk for cardiovascular disease.

Researchers still need more information, and this was only a small study. They have found, however, that longer infection time increases a person’s risk for atherosclerosis. While this is true, they are not saying that HIV is the cause. More research is needed to determine the other risk factors involved.