7 ways to protect your heart when you're living with HIV

heart-positive peers

By: Ann Avery, MD, Infectious Disease Physician at MetroHealth Medical Center

Unfortunately, heart disease is one of the most common risks of aging. It’s true for everybody, even if they don't have HIV. But for those living with HIV, some studies suggest that there is an increased chance of experiencing heart disease.

But don’t let that scare you too much. The good news is, if you work hard now to improve heart health and you tackle certain risk factors, you can reduce the risk of getting heart disease later in life.

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What to do about HIV and heart disease risk

HIV and a healthy heart don’t have to live on opposite sides of the street. There are several things that can help you reduce the risk of heart disease if you have HIV:

  1. Quit smoking: Insert every “stop smoking today” lecture you’ve ever heard here. Seriously, smoking hurts the heart more than just about anything else. Every drag on a cigarette subtracts seconds from your life. Smoking is crazy tough to quit, but doing it is the accomplishment of a lifetime. So keep trying — you’ll feel great about yourself when you do!
  2. Treat diabetes: If you have it, medication and proper diet can keep diabetes under control and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  3. Reduce high blood pressure: Keeping your blood pressure in the normal range reduces the stress on your heart and blood vessels.
  4. Get lots of exercise: The more you walk, run, and work out, the stronger your heart gets. The opposite is also true: the less you exercise, the higher your risk of heart problems.
  5. Eat better: Greasy, fatty foods with lots of sugar are troublemakers for your heart. Every time you choose something like an apple with peanut butter and a glass of water instead of chips and a soda for a snack helps!
  6. Fight stress: Reducing stress in your life can ease the strain on your heart and circulatory system.
  7. Don’t abuse drugs: Drug abuse messes with the heart’s normal functions, eventually wearing it out.

Some of this stuff is hard work, but it’s worth it.

Nobody’s saying you have to do it all today — but the sooner you get started, the better your chance at a long, healthy, heart-disease-free life. And honey, if anyone can do it, it’s you!


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HIV medicines and heart health

Some HIV medicines cause extra fat in your blood that can increase heart disease risk. But sometimes, there’s something you can do to counter that risk. Talk to your doctor about what’s right in your specific situation.

For instance, a certain medication might give you higher blood cholesterol, a major risk factor for heart disease. But, if you change up your diet and get more exercise, you can bring your cholesterol level back down.

The main thing is, when talking about your HIV medication, make sure to ask your doctor about heart disease risk and what you can do to reduce it. If your mom or dad or siblings have ever suffered from heart trouble, your doctor needs to know about that too.

Even though there are risks with some HIV medications, taking your meds is still the best way to reduce your risk of heart disease! HIV itself, if untreated, puts someone at a much higher risk of heart disease. Plus, it is a lot better for your entire body to keep your HIV level undetectable.

So what’s the T? The T is to stay on your meds, make sure you talk to your doc about your risk of heart disease, and do your best at reducing your risk 😉 You got this!

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