There are a handful of drugs effective in treating HIV/AIDS. However new research shows that some of these drugs can increase the risk of heart attacks. The results come from a Garvan Institute of Medical Research study involving 20 people, 10 taking the drug Ritonavir and 10 others the drug Raltegravir for one month.
According to institute's associate professor, Katherine Samaras the levels of the participants’ blood cholesterol after meals were surprising. “We found that one drug, Ritonavir, increased the post-meal level of the blood fats and LDL cholesterol; the other drug we looked at did not do this…So this suggests there might be differences from one drug to another.”
Ritonavir is a relatively older and commonly used drug which was formerly linked to heart risk, had more adverse effects on people's metabolisms than the newer drug, Raltegravir. Dr. Samaras said, “Ritonavir looks like it's increasing blood fat levels, not only when people are fasting but also after (eating) meals.” This raises the risk of getting heart attacks she said. In general there is a raised risk of heart disease with the drugs causing weight gain around the abdomen, cholesterol increase and a resistance to insulin.
Dr. Samaras also said, “There has been a lot of debate as to what drugs are doing it, and does the virus itself cause it…We tend not to think the virus is causing these abnormalities.” Explaining the implications of the findings she said that people need not stop the drug immediately but each individual's heart risk profile should be assessed before prescriptions are decided. “When we weigh up the risks and the benefits of HIV treatment, we have to consider the best drug to stop the virus…If there are other drugs available that do the job equally well then it looks like (some) people should be considered for (a drug) that does not increase heart risk.”
At present nearly 17,500 people are living with the infection in Australia and 12,000 of those are younger than 50, according to the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research. Dr. Samaras explained that “Twenty years ago we didn't think people would survive 20 years with the infection…And now they are surviving, they are doing quite well, and we are starting to see some of the diseases of old age much earlier than we would have expected to…But nevertheless we are trying to see how we can halt the progression to these diseases of ageing in people with HIV.”
The findings of the study are published in the online version of the journal AIDS.