Starting

antiretroviral treatment as soon as you are diagnosed with HIV can reduce the risk of heart disease

HIV AND THE HEART

What do I need to know?

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?

It is important that people living with HIV are aware of their heart health for a number of reasons.

Smoking

People living with HIV are more likely to smoke compared to HIV negative people and smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with people who have never smoked.

Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your heart health. When you are ready, discuss your lifestyle with your healthcare team and work together to identify where improvements can be made.

The HIV itself

Over time, the HIV virus itself can increase your risk of heart disease. Talk to your healthcare team about regularly checking your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as your risk for diabetes.

HIV medications 

Some of the HIV medications used to treat HIV are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. It’s important to know if you’re on the best treatment for you; ask your health care team what your options are.

Considering your test results

More about heart disease

MORE ABOUT HEART DISEASE

Heart disease is the term that describes what happens when your heart isn't able to work properly, which can be due to a number of reasons. Common cnditions include:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Arrhythmia
  • Heart failure
  • Heart valve disease
  • Pulmonary arterial hypertension

Some causes of heart disease are genetic but lifestyle factors can make heart disease more likely, these include:

  • Smoking – which is the leading cause of preventable death
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating too much saturated fat (such as butter, fatty meat and cream)  
  • Not being physically active

Other factors that can put your heart under increased pressure include:

  • Age
  • Some medicines
  • Emotional stress
  • Physical exertion
  • Illness
Can HIV cause heart disease?

CAN HIV CAUSE HEART DISEASE?

As we get older, the risk of heart disease (or cardiovascular disease) increases, regardless of HIV status but if you are living with HIV you may be more likely to develop heart disease compared to someone who does not have HIV. There are a number of reasons for this, including the damage the virus itself causes your body, as well as lifestyle and treatment choices you can make.

The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to manage your risks. 

Am I at risk?

There are a number of regular assessments your healthcare team can do to identify your risks, these include:

  • Reviewing your lifestyle choices with you, particularly diet and smoking, to identify where changes can be made – smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with people who have never smoked
  • Calculating your risk of  heart disease by looking at your age, blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Checking if you have diabetes or are at risk for diabetes
  • Reviewing the HIV medicine you are taking

What if I already have heart disease?

If you've been diagnosed with heart disease, there are things you can do to increase your chances of having a healthier heart:

  • For example, lifestyle changes such as keeping a healthy diet and regular exercise, will help reduce your future risk of heart disease
  • It is never too late to stop smoking. Stopping smoking after a heart attack can still reduce your risk of having a heart attack in the future

There are many different medicines used to treat heart disease and they can work in different ways. These include:

  • Thinning your blood (such as low-dose aspirin)
  • Lowering your cholesterol level (these are called statins)
  • Treating high blood pressure. These medications can include:
    • ACE inhibitors
    • angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs)
    • calcium channel blockers
    • diuretics
    • beta-blockers
  • Widening your blood vessels (nitrates)
What should I ask?

WHAT SHOULD I ASK?

  • What is my risk of heart disease? You will need to know your family history to explore this
  • Do I need to check my blood sugar levels in case of diabetes?
  • What are my blood pressure and cholesterol levels?
  • What are the signs or symptoms of heart disease?
  • What changes can I make to my lifestyle or treatment choices?
  • Should I take aspirin or a statin?
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Tips

TO LOOK AFTER YOUR HEALTH

  1. Discuss your heart health with your healthcare team
  2. Don’t smoke
    Or look for ways to help you cut back
  3. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
    Reduce salt and fat intake, and eat more vegetables and wholegrains
  1. Maintain a healthy weight
  2. Increase your physical activity levels
  3. Manage your stress levels
  4. Limit your alcohol intake
  1. Don’t use recreational drugs
    Cocaine, amphetamines and related chemicals can increase your risk of a heart attack
  2. Know your family history
  3. Download apps that can help you monitor your health
    Such as recording your blood pressure or offer support to stop smoking