HIV AND THE HEART
You know your HIV viral load but do you know how to look after your heart?
No matter what your age or what body type you have, you can find information here about how to monitor and maintain a healthy heart.
Read below to find out more about:
- What can affect heart health and how to keep yours as healthy as possible
- A real-life story about living with HIV, including why it’s important to look after your heart
- Different types of heart conditions and information on what causes them
- Risk factors and what to do if you already live with heart disease
To help you plan for your next appointment and helpful questions to ask, go to What To Ask for tips and downloadable questions.
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.
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.
Ask your health care team whether your HIV medication is affecting how well your heart is working and what your options are.
WHAT IS 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 conditions include:
- Coronary heart disease
- 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:
- Some medicines
- Emotional stress
- Physical exertion
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
- Widening your blood vessels (nitrates)