Antiretroviral drug cocktails used to control HIV replication may carry the same heart attack risks as smoking cigarettes--doubling the risk for cardiac arrest, according to a study presented at the 12th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston. University of Copenhagen scientist Jens Lundgren recorded 277 heart attacks among more than 23,000 HIV patients on antiretroviral therapy, about double the rate seen in people not on anti-HIV drugs and about the same rate as reported among HIV-negative smokers. The average age of the HIV patients experiencing heart attacks was 39, according to Lundgren. "You wouldn't expect myocardial infarcts [heart attacks] in that young a population," Lundgren said at a news conference, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Because of the increased heart attack risk linked with anti-HIV drugs, HIV patients should try to lower other cardiac risk factors as much as possible, including stopping smoking, exercising regularly, sticking to healthy diets, and using cholesterol-lowering medications if needed, Lundgren advises. Despite the increased risk of heart attacks, Lundgren still says antiretroviral medications are of enormous benefit to HIV-positive Americans. He told the Journal that before the advent of triple-drug therapy in 1995 that the annual death rate among HIV-positive people was 23% per year; it's currently down to 1.5% to 2% per year, he says.