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Living Positive: Being Heart Healthy With HIV

If a person is diagnosed with HIV today, they can expect to have roughly the same life expectancy as a person who is HIV negative. Even though an HIV diagnosis may no longer means a person’s life is cut short, it does mean that they now must be aware of certain health risks that may come as a result of the virus. Many of these risks, such as bone density loss, kidney problems and heart disease, are a result of long-term exposure to antiretroviral therapy (ART) used to treat HIV.


Now, the National Institutes of Health have begun a clinical trial to assess the effects of aspirin and cholesterol-lowering drugs, known as statins, for their efficacy of preventing cardiovascular disease in people with long-term HIV infections. The clinical trial consists of people using ART as well as a people called “elite controllers” who can control the virus without ART. Both groups run a higher risk of developing heart disease and stroke compared to the general population.


“With the remarkable success of antiretroviral therapy, people living with HIV have a near-normal life expectancy,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “However, as this population ages, non-infectious complications such as cardiovascular disease begin to arise. We need to study the effects on the immune system of drugs normally prescribed for these conditions to ensure that they are beneficial for HIV-infected individuals.”


HIV specialists have long believed that people living with HIV are at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke due to ART toxicity, immune defects and chronic inflammation. The NIH-led clinical trial will specifically examine the role of chronic inflammation as it relates to heart disease in HIV positive people and how drug-related changes influence the levels of the virus.


The study is currently recruiting people on ART and elite controllers who have not taken aspirin or statins within the past six months. Trial participants will be monitored for three months to establish clotting and inflammatory agents in their blood. Then, participants will be randomly assigned to groups who will either take aspirin or atorvastatin for nine months.


People who are living with HIV should actively monitor their health with the assistance of their doctor and maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to prevent complications such as heart disease and stroke. Cardiovascular exercise and a low cholesterol diet help reduce inflammation that can result from HIV. As with any health risk, early prevention is key, which is why HIV specialists recommend that people living with HIV are proactive with monitoring their health.


For more information on the NIH-lead clinical trial, visit using the identifier NCT02081638.