HIV antiretroviral drugs do not cause premature heart attacks or strokes in HIV-positive people as was previously believed, according to a new study in the February 20 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers at the San Diego Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed the medical records of nearly 37,000 patients who received HIV care at Veterans Affairs facilities from January 1993 through June 2001 and evaluated the patients for their cardiovascular risks. They found that combination antiretroviral therapy did not boost heart attack risk and that the numbers of patients being treated for heart attacks and strokes actually decreased after drug cocktails became available in the mid 1990s. The use of anti-HIV drugs was found to lower the overall risk of death from any cause.
"Fear of accelerated vascular disease should not deter patients and providers from using the highest-quality care for HIV," the researchers wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. "HIV-infected patients have been enormously better off since the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy."
Previous research, including a study by Danish scientists presented in mid February at the 10th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, has suggested that anti-HIV drugs boost the risk for cardiovascular complications, mainly by increasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels in patients taking the medications. Researchers are planning larger, longer studies to determine the long-term effects of anti-HIV medications on cardiovascular risk.