Is there a link between HIV and heart disease?
HIV speeds up the ageing of the immune system and inflames it, which can make cardiovascular diseases 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 (eg strokes and heart attacks) 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. This can lead to increases in cholesterol and triglycerides (types of fat) and 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.
What does my heart and cardiovascular system do?
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.
What causes heart problems?
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.
How can I keep my heart healthy?
Your lifestyle can increase your risk of heart disease. You can help keep your heart healthy by:
- stopping smoking and 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.
Ask your doctor or nurse how much exercise you need if you’re new to it.