February 24, 2005
AIDS drug cocktails may double the risk of heart attacks, a risk comparable with smoking cigarettes, University of Copenhagen researcher Dr. Jens Lundgren said at the 12th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston. Lundgren's study reported 277 heart attacks among 23,441 AIDS patients whose median age was 39.
"You wouldn't expect myocardial infarcts [heart attacks] in that young a population," Lundgren said at a news conference.
Lundgren emphasized that the risk of heart attack in AIDS patients taking drug cocktails is greatly shadowed by the huge life-expectancy gains that result from the drugs. In 1995, before the era of HAART, the AIDS death rate was 23 percent a year; it is currently 1.5 percent to 2 percent a year among treated patients, he noted.
AIDS patients taking HAART should try to alter lifestyle risk factors such as diet, said Lundgren. Cholesterol-lowering drugs and smoking cessation should be considered. "If you smoke, you increase risk 1 ½ to twofold," Lundgren said. "If you quit, your heart forgives you."
Separately at the conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the government's top AIDS research scientist, warned that the days of double-digit funding increases for AIDS are over for now, with health concerns like bioterrorism, SARS and avian influenza competing for dollars.
"We have to face the challenge of making the most of scientific opportunities in drugs and vaccines" during times of fiscal restraint, said Fauci, speaking at an afternoon preview of a policy speech to be delivered Wednesday evening, However, he denied a recent report that NIH would curtail its vaccine research.