Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have found that patients with HIV have nearly double the risk of heart attacks and strokes compared with the general population.
In a study published in the journal JAMA Cardiology, the researchers showed that those infected with the HIV virus, even patients whose viral load are undetectable, have 1.5 to 2 times greater risks for heart attacks.
"The actual risk of heart attack for people with HIV was roughly 50 percent higher than predicted by the risk calculator many physicians use for the general population," said Matthew Feinstein, M.D., a cardiovascular disease fellow at Northwestern Medicine and the study's first author.
Given the inaccuracy, a new algorithm for predicting risk may have to be developed to better portray actual heart attack and stroke risk in HIV patients, he added.
However, the current study only used data from 20,000 patients, which wasn't enough for developing a more accurate risk predictor. The tool in place today for predicting risks of heart attacks in the general population was based on data from over 200,000 patients.
Aside from being inaccurate for HIV patients, the current risk-predicting tool is also least accurate in men and women of African-American descent.
HIV And Heart Attack, Stroke Risk
For the study, the researchers assessed data from about 20,000 patients with HIV receiving care from one of the participating sites in the United States, comparing predicted heart attack rates based on information from the general population to actual heart attacks observed in the participants.
Feinstein and colleagues believe the primary reason for the higher heart attack and stroke risk in HIV patients was the virus itself. According to them, the infection causes chronic inflammation that leads to the buildup of plaque making an individual more prone to heart attacks or stroke.
Compared with uninfected individuals, HIV patients experience plaque buildup earlier by 10 to 15 years. And as HIV patients live longer, the more the inflammation becomes more common, driving accelerated aging and heart disease risk.
The Importance Of Accurately Predicting Heart Attack And Stroke Risk
An accurate prediction of individual risk helps in determining if a person should take drugs like statins in an effort to reduce said risk involving heart attacks or strokes. The higher the risk, the better the benefit, which can justify resulting side effects from heart attack or stroke medication.
In the United States, an estimated 1.2 million are infected with HIV. This number balloons to 35 to 40 million in reference to HIV patients around the world.