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Cardiac and vascular disease in HIV-infected patients

Melvin D Cheitlin, MD
Section Editor
John G Bartlett, MD
Deputy Editor
Howard Libman, MD, FACP


Cardiac abnormalities were appreciated early in the epidemic of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), even before the etiologic agent, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), was isolated and characterized. The etiology and pathogenesis of myocarditis and cardiomyopathy in association with HIV infection is still the subject of intense speculation [1,2]. In the era of potent antiretroviral therapy (ART), patients are living longer, and the disease has become a chronic infection, even in low- and middle-income countries [3]. Nevertheless, HIV infection confers a 61 percent increase in death compared with uninfected subjects [4], and a growing body of evidence implicates chronic inflammation that persists despite effective ART in the development of vascular dysfunction and accelerated atherosclerosis [5]. With this, atherosclerotic vascular disease, especially coronary artery disease, has become the most important cardiovascular complication of HIV infection and has had the most attention directed to its pathogenesis, prevention, and therapy [6,7]. In resource-limited settings where medical treatment is sparse, limited, or absent, HIV disease and its complications are similar to the disease in the pre–ART era.

This topic is devoted to the spectrum of cardiac and vascular diseases seen in HIV-infected patients. Discussions related specifically to coronary artery disease and its management in HIV-infected patients is discussed elsewhere. (See "Epidemiology of cardiovascular disease and risk factors in HIV-infected patients" and "Pathogenesis and biomarkers of cardiovascular disease in HIV-infected patients" and "Management of cardiovascular risk (including dyslipidemia) in the HIV-infected patient".)


Patients with HIV infection can have a variety of cardiac and vascular manifestations. However, certain cardiac disorders have been reported with greater frequency among HIV-infected patients compared with the general population; the specific type of cardiac disease varies by setting.

In resource-rich countries, with the widespread availability of potent antiretroviral therapy (ART), patients are living longer, and other comorbidities have surfaced, such as hypertension, metabolic abnormalities (hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, lipodystrophy), and accelerated atherosclerosis, including coronary artery disease [6,8-11]. Thus, cardiovascular disease has emerged as a major cause of morbidity and mortality in HIV-infected patients. As an example, in a study from the United States of death certificates that listed HIV infection, the proportion of deaths attributed to heart disease increased from 5 to 10 percent from 1996 to 2006 [12]. Although cardiovascular disease is accounting for a larger percentage of all those who died, the number of patients dying from cardiovascular disease has actually decreased. In a study of almost 50,000 HIV-infected patients, all-cause deaths decreased by 48 percent from 17.5 deaths per 1000 person-years in 1999 to 2000 to 9.1 deaths per 1000 person-years in 2009 to 2011; cardiovascular deaths also decreased by 50 percent over this time period from 1.8 to 0.9 deaths per 1000 person-years [13]. The decrease in cardiovascular death could be explained by improved use of non-HIV-specific preventive measures. (See "Epidemiology of cardiovascular disease and risk factors in HIV-infected patients", section on 'Epidemiology'.)

HIV infection has been associated with an increased risk of heart failure in the ART era [14]. In the Veterans Aging Cohort Study, which followed 98,015 patients without baseline cardiovascular disease for a median of 7.1 years, HIV-infected veterans had an increased risk of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF; hazard ratio [HR] 1.61, 95% CI 1.40-1.86) and heart failure with preserved (HFpEF; HR 1.37, 95% CI 1.09-1.72) compared with matched seronegative veterans. The risk of HFrEF was associated with high HIV viral loads (> 500 copies/mL) and low CD4 cell counts (< 200/mm3), and it was pronounced in veterans younger than 40 years at baseline (HR 3.59, 95% CI 1.95-6.58).

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jun 30, 2017.
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