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A study presented at the EUROECHO conference revealed that children with HIV have a 2.5 percent greater likelihood of developing atherosclerosis than those without the virus.
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque that's comprised of fat, cholesterol and calcium builds up on the inside of arteries, reducing the circulation of oxygen and blood. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that this can result in heart attack, stroke or death.
The researchers noted that the health risks associated with the increased buildup of plaque in HIV patients' blood vessels is exacerbated by the chronic inflammation caused by patients' overactive immune systems.
"This is especially important for children because they have been living with HIV since birth or even before," said study author Sainz Costa, M.D. "By the time they are 50 years old, they will have accumulated more toxicity from the treatment and more secondary effects from the infection and will be at an even greater risk of heart attacks and other complications."
According to the study authors, HIV patients may be more likely to develop atherosclerosis because their arteries are naturally less flexible, which speeds up the hardening process. They also found that many of the study subjects were of a lower economic status, which is linked to higher rates of smoking, another risk factor of the cardiac condition.
According to Costa, scientists are currently looking for ways to reduce inflammation in those who suffer from HIV which can be detected with a blood test, and they're also seeking ways to use probiotics, aspirin and corticoids to maintain healthy immune activation levels. Presently, it's imperative for healthcare providers to encourage their patients to lead healthier lifestyles in terms of diet, exercise and smoking.
While atherosclerosis is characterized by arterial blockage, it can negatively impact the brain, arms, legs, pelvis, kidneys and cause a litany of other cardiac illnesses, according to the NIH.
Coronary heart disease (CHD), which can result from atherosclerosis, has the highest fatality rate of any health condition in the U.S. CHD occurs when blood clots form in the arteries, stopping the blood from flowing to the heart.
Chronic kidney disease is another ailment caused by atherosclerosis, which occurs from a buildup of plaque in the renal arteries. This prevents the kidneys from getting enough blood and over time, the kidneys lose their ability to function.
The NIH also notes that there is no known cause of atherosclerosis, but healthy lifestyle choices such as a nutritional diet and exercise can help ward off the condition.
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