Cardiovascular Health

Good heart health matters!

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) - or heart disease - is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. CVD can include many different heart-related issues, including heart attacks, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, and hypertension. Each one of these diseases increases your risk of suffering a major heart attack and/or dying prematurely.

A number of factors can increase your risk for CVD:

  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Tobacco use
  • Diet that is high in saturated fats and sodium
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol use
  • Family history of heart disease

For more information, see CDC’s Heart Disease Risk Factors.

HIV/AIDS and Cardiovascular Disease

Since 1996, when antiretroviral therapy became available, people living with HIV/AIDS have been living longer, healthier lives. But some HIV medications can increase your risk for heart disease by causing insulin resistance or high cholesterol levels.

HIV Treatment can play a role

Does HIV infection itself increase your risk for heart disease? Researchers think it might—and they are still working to find the answer. According to the American Heart Association:

  • The risk for heart attack is 70-80% higher among people with HIV compared with those who don’t have HIV. For younger patients, the absolute risk is still low.
  • Having HIV is associated with increases in two important risk factors for heart disease:
    • Having low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol
    • Having high levels of triglycerides (another type of blood fat)

But the connection between heart disease and HIV medications is pretty clear. Studies have shown that some kinds of HIV meds, including protease inhibitors, increase lipid levels in your body, which can place you at risk for heart disease.

But researchers warn against stopping your HIV meds to protect your heart. In fact, current research shows that stopping and starting HIV meds can make heart disease worse—while putting you in danger by allowing HIV to reproduce in your body.

Scientists say that newer antiretroviral drugs may be easier on your heart. Check with your healthcare provider to find the best HIV medications for you.

For more information about HIV and heart disease, see’s The Beating of Your Heart: Special Conference Looks at What's Known—and Not Known—About Cardiovascular Disease in HIV Exit Disclaimer.

Prevention is STILL the best medicine!

You can’t control all of your risk factors for heart disease, but there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Quit smoking
  • Improve your diet
  • Exercise regularly

See your primary care provider to be screened for heart disease risk factors. For more information, see CDC’s Preventing Heart Disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I start worrying about heart disease?

It’s never too early to start taking care of your heart! You can develop high cholesterol or high blood pressure—big risk factors for heart disease—as early as your late teens or early 20s, so it pays to get screened early. Your healthcare provider will ask you about your behavioral risk factors (smoking, diet, sedentary lifestyle) as well as other risk factors, such as your weight, any family history of heart disease, and other health conditions that may put you at greater risk, like diabetes.

If you are HIV-positive, ask your provider about being screened for heart disease at your first visit. If you are taking medications for your HIV disease, you will need to be monitored regularly to keep your heart healthy.

Additional Resources

Last revised: 10/27/2011