Untreated HIV increases the risk of heart disease but starting treatment reduces these risks.
HIV speeds up the ageing of the immune system and inflames it, which can make cardiovascular disease more likely.
Untreated HIV increases the risk of heart disease, but starting treatment right away after diagnosis can reduce these risks. On the other hand, the risk of a heart attack increases with time in people living with HIV, regardless of their CD4 count or viral load.
Recent research has also found that diseases of old age, including cardiovascular disease (strokes and heart attacks, among others), are more prevalent in older people living with HIV.
Some antiretroviral drugs, including some protease inhibitors, may interfere with the balance of your blood fats, leading to increases in cholesterol and triglycerides (types of fat) which can lead to the clogging up of arteries. If you have any concerns relating to your antiretroviral treatment and your heart, your healthcare team will be able to advise you.
Your cardiovascular system is made up of your heart, blood vessels and the blood that carries oxygen and nutrients to all areas of your body and removes waste from them.
Cardiovascular disease includes a range of conditions which affect the heart and circulation. These include coronary heart disease (the biggest killer in the UK), stroke, deep vein thrombosis and heart attack.
These conditions are often caused by lifestyle factors although they are sometimes genetic.
According to the British Heart Foundation, coronary heart disease (angina, heart attack and heart failure) and stroke are usually caused by a narrowing of the arteries known as atherosclerosis. This is where fatty deposits, known as atheroma, gradually build up on the walls of the arteries, making it harder for blood to get through. More about heart problems and strokes.
Your lifestyle can increase your risk of heart disease. By stopping smoking, reducing your alcohol intake, having a healthy diet low in saturated fats, exercising regularly and addressing problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, you can help keep your heart healthy. Ask a doctor or a nurse how much exercise you need if you're new to it.
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This article was last reviewed on
by Anna Peters
Date due for the next review: 4/1/2021
Content Author: Kerri Virani
Current Owner: Health promotion
Understanding how your heart functions
Coronary heart disease
British Heart Foundation
British Heart Foundation
Coronary heart disease prevention
Risk of heart attack rises with length of HIV infection regardless of age
Lipids and protease inhibitors
Lipodystrophy (fat changes)
What causes high cholesterol?
Cardiovascular diseases WHO (2015)
HIV and your quality of life: a guide to side effects and other complications i-base (2010)
Cardiovascular disease British Heart Foundation
Accelerated ageing of the immune system linked to heart disease risk in women with HIV NAM aidsmap (2011)
Reducing cardiac arrest NAM Aidsmap (2012)
Cardiovascular risk factors among people with HIV NAM Aidsmap (2012)
The heart NAM aidsmap Michael Carter (2011)
HIV, HAART and cardiac risk NAM Aidsmap (2012)
More serious problems with antiretroviral drugs Best Health British Medical Journal publication (2012)
How your heart works British Heart Foundation
Coronary heart disease NHS Choices (2013)
Coronary heart disease – Prevention NHS Choices (2013)
HIV infection associated with an increased risk of the diseases of ageing Michael Carter Aidsmap September 2014
Your heart and circulation British Hearth Foundation
How a healthy heart works British Hearth Foundation
Various people talk about their experiences of living with HIV.
CAB - Citizens Advice Bureau
HIV Drug Interactions
George House Trust
Equality and Human Rights Commission
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