People with HIV more likely to experience heart attacks

HIV heart attacks, heart association
© Mariya Podgornaya

Research by the American Heart Association found that people with HIV are more likely to experience heart attacks – with “higher rates of sudden cardiac death”

People living with HIV are exposed to increased health risks, such as a more severe reaction to COVID-19. Individuals who are managing their condition face a series of obstacles, from globally recognised viruses to societal stigma. Now, the American Heart Association finds that sudden cardiac death can be linked to people living with HIV.

What is sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac death occurs when the heart unexpectedly stops beating, usually due to a sudden electrical malfunction causing a lethal heart rhythm, preventing blood flow to the brain and vital organs, resulting in death within minutes if not treated.

“People living with HIV are already known to have a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, blood clots in the lungs and peripheral artery disease,” said Matthew S Freiberg, lead author of the study, and professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“We know that among people with HIV, those who have a compromised immune system, for example a low total CD4+ T cell count, they seem to have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease than those who have high CD4+ T cell counts.

“It is unclear if a compromised immune system is a risk factor for sudden cardiac death.”

Sudden cardiac death 70% higher if antiretroviral therapy doesn’t work

According to the research, the likelihood of sudden cardiac death can be increased by certain risk factors – such as including existing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, smoking, hepatitis C infection, anemia, alcohol dependence or abuse, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In some people without HIV, heart attacks were still likely.

Sadly, in people with HIV whose blood tests show that antiretroviral therapy is not working, the likelihood of sudden cardiac death was 70% higher.

“Addressing risk factors related to both cardiovascular disease and HIV is essential to prevent the higher rates of sudden cardiac death in people with HIV,” said Zian H. Tseng, M.A.S, senior author of the study and a professor of medicine in residence, Murray Davis Endowed Professor at the University of California, San Francisco.

“Clinicians should consider screening for specific warning signs of sudden cardiac death such as fainting or heart palpitations. And, if indicated, clinicians should request additional testing such as echocardiograms or continuous rhythm monitoring.”


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