HIV patients at greater risk of CVD, COPD and fractures

UK researchers found people living with HIV had an increased risk of contracting specific diseases and illnesses, some of which they said were more commonly associated with ageing.

“This population now seems to be disproportionately affected by chronic illnesses”

Lee Smith

Their findings, published this week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, come from the first large-scale review into the health outcomes linked with HIV as a long-term condition.

The “umbrella” review, led by Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and the Medical University of Vienna, combined data from 20 observational studies and examined 55 different illnesses.

It found that people living with HIV had a significantly elevated risk of COPD and coughs, cardiovascular disease, pregnancy mortality and sepsis, anaemia, and bone fractures.

Although the number of people contracting HIV is declining, the researchers noted that around 1.8 million people were infected every year and it remained one of the world’s major health issues.

In recent years, people living with HIV have benefited from improved access to antiretroviral treatment.

However, increased life expectancy and a lower immunity has meant higher levels of comorbidity, with people living with HIV also more likely to suffer from other illnesses.

The greater prevalence of age-associated diseases may be explained by the persistent immunodeficiency and inflammation connected with HIV, suggested the researchers.

They also highlighted that there were adverse effects associated with antiretroviral treatment, which might be a factor in their findings.

In addition, they added that previous studies had suggested people with HIV often exhibited greater risk factors for non-AIDS related illnesses that are associated with smoking, drug use and alcohol use.

“The elevated risk levels highlighted in our study should hopefully lead to further research”

Lee Smith

Senior author Dr Lee Smith, reader in physical activity and public health at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “There has been a major shift in how we view HIV. It is no longer a death sentence but rather a manageable chronic illness.

“By pooling data from different studies, we’ve been able to show for the first time that even with the rise in life expectancy among people living with HIV, this population now seems to be disproportionately affected by chronic illnesses often attributable to lifestyle issues such as smoking, drug and alcohol use, or more commonly associated with an older population.

“We’re unable to say for certain which are caused or exacerbated by HIV and its treatment, and which are related to lifestyle,” said Dr Smith.

“However, the elevated risk levels highlighted in our study should hopefully lead to further research to improve both the prevention and early detection of these co-morbidities in people living with HIV,” he added.