HIV Leads to Hardening of Arteries

Immune system disease linked to increased risk of atherosclerosis

MONDAY, March 15, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- People with HIV suffer high rates of rapidly progressive atherosclerosis, says a study in this week's online issue of Circulation.

The study included 148 people with HIV, average age 45, who had been infected for 11 years and treated with protease inhibitor medications for 3.3 years. Protease inhibitor drugs are a common treatment for people with HIV.

The study also included a comparison group of 63 uninfected adults who were matched for age and gender to those in the HIV group.

Ultrasound was used to measure intima-media thickness (IMT) of the carotid arteries. These are located in the neck and supply blood to the brain. IMT indicates the thickness of muscle layers in the middle of the carotid artery wall and is used to assess plaque build-up in the arteries and to monitor its progression.

The people with HIV had a significantly larger average carotid IMT (0.91 millimeters) than those in the control group (0.74 millimeters). The study detected areas of carotid plaque in 45 percent of the HIV patients, compared with 24 percent of the control subjects.

Some of the patients were retested a year later. Those tests revealed a significantly faster rate of IMT growth in the people with HIV compared to those in the control group.

"Our finding suggests that it would be reasonable to consider HIV infection a cardiac risk factor," principal investigator Dr. Priscilla Y. Hsue, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, says in a prepared statement.

"Other risk factors, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, need to be aggressively treated in HIV patients -- even if it means changes in their HIV medications to control cholesterol levels," Hsue says.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about atherosclerosis.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, March 15, 2004
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