The reason for the increased risk of heart disease is because men with HIV have more more soft plaque buildup in the arteries that bring blood to the heart, a condition called coronary atherosclerosis, than men without the virus, the study, which was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, showed. Coronary atherosclerosis is a risk factor for heart attack.
Unlike hard plaque, which eventually builds up and blocks blood from flowing to the heart stifling the supply of oxygen to the organ, soft plaque can cause part of the artery to rupture, leading to a blood clot, which can cause a heart attack by blocking blood flow.
For the study, researchers from Northwestern University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Pittsburgh examined the heart health of 618 HIV-infected men and 383 men without HIV who were part of the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study. The men who participated in the study were between ages 40 and 70 and had sex with other men.
Sixty-three percent of the HIV-infected men in the study had coronary atherosclerosis from soft plaque, while only 53% of the men without HIV had the condition. The increased coronary atherosclerosis association remained true for the HIV-positive men even after researchers took into account other heart disease risk factors, such as smoking and high blood pressure.
Additionally, men with HIV who had taken anti-HIV drugs for the longest amount of time and whose immune health had worsened the most were more likely to experience coronary artery blockages from soft plaque.
“Thanks to effective treatments, many people with HIV infection are living into their 50s and well beyond and are dying of non-AIDS-related causes – frequently, heart disease,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., the director of the National Institute Of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement. “Consequently, the prevention and treatment of non-infectious chronic diseases in people with HIV infection has become an increasingly important focus of our research.”