HIV-Related Cardiovascular Diseases Worry Medics

There is growing concern among scientists that inflammation caused by HIV and the side effects of some antiretroviral drugs, especially protease inhibitors, are increasing cardiovascular risk among people living with HIV.

This was revealed during the fifth annual East African health and scientific conference held in Kampala last week. It was held under the theme ‘Investing in health through strengthening regional health systems and institutions towards the prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases.’

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are heart and blood-vessel-related conditions, including hypertension, stroke, heart attacks and heart failure, among others and these account for nine per cent of all deaths related to non-communicable diseases in Uganda, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“There is evidence that people living with HIV may sometimes experience inflammation of the heart and veins as a result of long- term exposure to the virus. Inflamed arteries trap more plaque (fat) which makes it hard for blood to enter or leave the heart, leading to CVD,” said Prof Gerald Yonga, a cardiologist with the Aga Khan University hospital in Kenya.

He added that stroke, heart attack and hypertension were the commonest HIV-related CVDs. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers on 618 men living with HIV published on April 1, 2014 in the medical journal, Annals Of Internal Medicine, says in part, men with long-term HIV infections are at higher risk than uninfected men of developing plaque in their coronary arteries. This suggests increased risk for heart attacks.

However, Yonga notes the risk of developing CVD in people living with HIV, as with those living without the disease is exacerbated by unhealthy behaviour such as smoking, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol, drug consumption, and other health conditions such as diabetes and obesity (excess body fat especially around the abdomen.)

“HIV has moved from being an acute infection to being chronic, presenting new challenges that need new approaches. We now need to include cardiovascular risk screening into HIV treatment programs,” Yonga aised.


Proper lifestyle is not only your best defence against heart disease, but also your duty. Although one may lack the power to change some causes of CVDs such as age and heredity, he or she has power to change preventable causes the commonest being a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the blood vessels.

Yonga aises on these lifestyle changes for a healthier heart:


WHO recommends 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day for children and adolescents. Accordingly, regular and adequate levels of physical activity improve muscular and cardio-respiratory fitness and reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes.


“Vegetables and fruits should be a must-eat everyday and it’s aisable to take starchy foods the size of a fist and lean proteins such as that in legumes, half the size of a fist,” Yonga urges, adding that low-fat dairy products are most aisable.

It is also aisable that one limits his or her alcohol consumption, calorie intake, saturated fat and salt.


People with cardiovascular diseases are two to four times more likely to develop diabetes. The disease may be managed through proper nutrition and physical activity.


Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is associated with risk factors such as high salt intake, excessive alcohol, sedentary lifestyle and tobacco use. Poorly controlled high blood pressure may damage blood vessels in the eye, lead to heart attack, cause hardening of arteries (arteriosclerosis), lead to kidney failure and strokes.

Adjustments in one’s behaviour and taking medicines as prescribed by a medical worker, may help to lower high blood pressure, reducing risk of developing CVDs.

Source : The Observer


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