Children with HIV have a 2.5 fold increased risk of atherosclerosis, according to research presented at EUROECHO and other Imaging Modalities 2012. Antiretroviral treatment, lipid lowering drugs and prevention with healthy lifestyles are needed to prevent early death from cardiovascular disease.
EUROECHO and other Imaging Modalities 2012 is the annual meeting of the European Association of Cardiovascular Imaging (EACVI), a registered branch of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). It takes place 5-8 December in Athens, Greece, at the Megaron Athens International Conference Centre.
Antiretroviral treatment is prolonging the lives of HIV patients, who no longer die prematurely from the infection. But the treatment is not a cure, and the virus remains in the body. "The infection makes the body fight for its life, so the immune system is always activated and there is chronic inflammation," said Dr Talia Sainz Costa, principal investigator of the study and a paediatrician from Madrid, Spain.
In addition, many antiretroviral drugs increase bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower good (HDL) cholesterol. Dr Sainz Costa said: "Children with HIV will have high cholesterol for a long period and on top of that the virus causes chronic inflammation - both are bad for the arteries."
Patients with HIV die 10 years prematurely from non-AIDS disease which includes cardiovascular diseases, cancer, liver and renal diseases. "This is especially important for children because they have been living with HIV since birth or even before," said Dr Sainz Costa. "By the time they are 50 years old they will have accumulated more toxicity from the treatment and more secondary effects from the infection and will be at an even greater risk of heart attacks and other complications."
The present study aimed to discover whether children and adolescents already have early atherosclerosis damage. Carotid intima-media thickness (IMT), a marker of atherosclerosis, was measured using echocardiography in 150 children and adolescents with HIV and 150 age and sex matched healthy controls.
The researchers found that 17% of the HIV group were smokers compared to 11% of the control group. Dr Sainz Costa said: "Smoking levels in adolescents in Spain are known to be high. The even higher levels in the HIV group are probably related to low socioeconomic status and very complex social/family backgrounds."
After adjustment for age, sex, BMI and smoking status, HIV was independently associated with thicker IMTOur study shows that children and adolescents with HIV have arteries that are more rigid and less elastic, which means that the process of atherosclerosis has begun and they have increased risk of an infarct in the future."