Health experts are calling for people living with HIV (PLHIV) to take care of their heart health after a new US study – published in the Journal of Cardiology – has revealed HIV-positive people are more than four times at risk of a heart attack than their HIV-negative counterparts.

National Heart Foundation of Australia CEO Dr Lyn Roberts said a recent Australian study showed cardiovascular disease causes more than 10 percent of deaths among HIV-positive people.

“Thanks to modern medicine, people living with HIV are now living longer,” Roberts said.

“However, they are also now experiencing more chronic diseases such as heart disease – the number one killer of Australians.

“We know that people living with HIV have a higher risk of heart disease and heart attack than HIV-negative people and as a result we have a responsibility to support and educate our communities.”

This week the Australian Heart Foundation launched a new resource on cardiovascular health specifically for PLHIV.

Studies show HIV-positive people are more likely to smoke than the general population (around 42 percent say they smoke, compared with 17 percent of HIV-negative people), while around 42 percent of PLHIV reported a high blood cholesterol, due to medication used to treat the virus.

Roberts said there are several factors which put PLHIV at risk of heart disease.

“To reduce the risk of heart disease, all Australians, including people living with HIV, should lead a healthy lifestyle by reducing their risk factors, making healthier food choices, being physically active and looking after their social and emotional wellbeing,” Roberts said.

Mental health has also been cited as a factor putting PLHIV at risk.

“We know that depression, social isolation and lack of quality support are key risk factors for heart disease,” Roberts said.

“With a high rate of depression among PLHIV, it’s important that those suffering from depression are reminded that it can be treated with medical and non-medical therapies.”

The Alfred Hospital’s cardiovascular medicine director and HIV working group chair Professor Anthony Dart said it was important HIV-positive people were aware of the risks.

“The HIV community themselves and the Heart Foundation feel there is a merit in giving [PLHIV} specific advice to try and reduce the risk,” Dart told the Star Observer.

“One of the things about making a specific guideline for people with HIV is to promote their awareness that these are issues they need to confront now, and even if most of the factors are things which we would recommend to anyone at high risk, we need to point out to them they are at high risk.”

“If we’d had this conversation in, say, 1995, we would have taken the view of ‘what’s the point?’ because the chances were you’d have much more immediate life-threatening issues. Now it’s not the case, which is great for overall treatment.”

Dart recommended PLHIV consult their doctors about improving their health.

“Things like not exceeding excess salt intake, keeping active on the diet you eat, giving up smoking, making sure your risk factor status is low, that you have had recent measurements of blood pressure and cholesterol and alike are important,” Dart said.

There are around 21,000 Australians living with HIV, with around 1000 new cases diagnosed each year.

To get the Heart Foundation’s new resource, Cardiovascular wellness for people living with HIV, call the Foundation’s health information service on 1300 36 27 87 or visit www.heartfoundation.org.au/hiv

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