HIV and heart health

The screen of an EKG machine, showing the line moving towards a cartoon image of a heart. This patient shows no risk of heart attack.

Heart Attack: HIV Patients at Nearly Double the Risk

The screen of an EKG machine, showing the line moving towards a cartoon image of a heart. This patient shows no risk of heart attack.

HIV patients need to be cautious of their heart attack risk.

Other than the brain, the heart is one of the most important organs in our body. It happens to also be a target for viruses like HIV. HIV positive individuals need to take caution and check on their heart regularly. A study shows that the risk for heart attack is much greater in those troubled by this disease.

Predicting Heart Attack Risk

The heart is vulnerable in America. At least, that is what the statistics say. Here are the facts that the CDC found:

  • Every 43 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.
  • Every year, 735,000 Americans have a heart attack.
  • Of those American, 525,00 are experiencing their first attack and 210,000 have experienced one before.
  • One of 5 heart attacks is silent. This means that the patient is not aware it is happening but still suffers damage to the body.

These are truly awful facts. But what the scientists at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have found may spell worse trouble for HIV patients. They are almost twice as likely to suffer from a heart attack, which more than what physicians have predicted for the general population.

Predicting the risk of heart attack is important. If a doctor discovers it early on, they can prescribe the right medicine to lower the risk. “If you have a higher risk for heart attack or stroke, your ability to benefit from one of these drugs is greater and justifies the possible side effects of a medication,” says Dr. Matthew Feinstein, cardiovascular disease fellow at Northwestern University.

Dr. Feinstein goes on to state that HIV increases heart risk by causing chronic inflammation, which can lead to plaque buildup in the body’s tissue. Eventually, this series of events in your body can lead to heart attack or stroke.

The current predictor tools for heart risk need to be adjusted. Heart medications are only given to those in serious need. If physicians cannot accurately tell if HIV patients need those medications, this will lead to dangerous consequences.

Depression and HIV: The Risk for Heart Attack

Mental health is often overlooked. However, the state of one’s mental health is important. In a 2014 data report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), they revealed that every year, about 42.5 million American adults suffer from some form of mental illness. Find out how mental illness can lead to other concerns and how HIV-infected individuals with depression are at risk for heart attack.


Depression is a condition that leaves many feeling sad, unmotivated, and irritable. It is also known to contribute to debilitating conditions such as insomnia, fatigue, pain, and other problems. The illness can also lead to suicide, other mental disorders, and more importantly, heart disease.

The Rise of Cardiovascular Disease

According to a study published by JAMA Cardiology, those with major depressive disorder (MDD) and HIV are more likely to experience a heart attack than those without the mental disorder.

They examined 26,144 veterans with HIV and found that 4,853 of them had depression. Most of the veterans with depression were around 47 years of age. Researchers met with these veterans more than 5 years later, and discovered that 490 of them had an acute myocardial infarction during that time span.

After further research, they determined that those with depression and HIV were 25 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those without depression.

HIV patients are forced to deal with a life-threating condition every day. This could be the reason for their depression. Other cause factors include personal issues, substance abuse, and non-psychiatric illnesses.

According to the CDC, more than 1 out of 20 Americans 12 years of age and older reported current depression. Some mental health facilities try to help those with emotional disorders, however, it is not an illness that can be easily cured. Hopefully, scientists can make HIV easily treatable and less of an emotionally draining experience.

Cardiovascular Disease and HIV

Cardiovascular Disease and HIV: A Leading Cause of Mortality

Careful monitoring of those with HIV can help slow down the progression of the disease and other conditions that may come along too. Links between HIV and other chronic conditions are well-known and documented. Recent trends in regards to cardiovascular disease and HIV, however, have physicians on the lookout for new treatments and approaches, as the number of patients suffering from high cholesterol and hypertension is on the rise. This calls for action and new strategies for helping patients not only maintain heart health, but their overall well-being.

While a connection is not surprising between HIV and cardiovascular disease, researchers have noticed a trend that gives cause for concern. Many HIV-positive patients who present with either high cholesterol or hypertension are receiving treatment. The problem lies in the fact that, of those who are on medications, few are actually showing improvement. Clearly, a more effective approach is needed.

The prospects of gaining control over HIV have vastly improved in recent years. Today, HIV can be controlled, and a patient can lead a relatively healthy life. So, while the main cause of death for someone with HIV is not the virus, the other common causes of HIV related deaths now need to be addressed. Of these, stroke and heart attacks are on the rise. The treatments that are available and in use are generally able to control the conditions. The issue is one of helping patients understand the risks, guidelines, and course of treatment. Educating patients and helping them to stick with the outlined course will help change current trends.

Cardiovascular disease and HIV is a reality. While cardiologists and other specialists can help stem the tide, new treatment options are also needed. In order to have more effective results, medications that are specific to the needs and circumstances of those with HIV will have to be developed.

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