Understanding the Link Between HIV and Heart Disease

As Gerald S. Bloomfield, M.D., saw heart patients in Kenya over the past decade, he knew that cardiovascular disease was on the rise in the country. However, he also noticed that many of the patients who came in with heart issues also had HIV. “We scratched our heads and asked, ‘Is there something to this?,’” recalls Bloomfield, a Duke associate professor of medicine and global health who works in Kenya through AMPATH, a network of academic institutions partnering with Kenyan health centers. Bloomfield wasn’t alone in seeing the correlation. An emerging area of research is showing that people living with HIV may have twice the risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

While the exact reasons for the link are not yet clear, the findings are leading doctors to think differently about how to manage heart health in an aging population of people living with HIV. “For patients with [the virus], they lean on their HIV doctor for a lot of their care or even all of it,” Bloomfield says. “It’s meaningful for patients to be with a physician they can trust who knows about HIV and heart disease.” In coming years, researchers plan to explore whether pitavastatin could help HIV patients with lower risks of cardiovascular disease maintain heart health, as well as what effect it might have on other diseases that can accompany HIV. “The rise in heart disease in those with HIV is happening all over the world,” Bloomfield says. “What’s amazing about this study is it’s lifesaving.”

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