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Love your heart

February 12, 2012 - It's that time of year: red, heart-shaped decorations abound and commercial messages hint of romance. February's the month when we undoubtedly think of those who touch our hearts. It's also a time to reflect on our own hearts. You know, that ever-so-important, intricate organ that keeps us moving every single day.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in this country, and one in three Canadians are affected by heart disease and stroke. There is a growing understanding that HIV can play a role in cardiovascular health, so during this month dedicated to heart awareness, CATIE wants to reflect on all the ways people with HIV can show a bit of love to their hearts.

Regardless of age, people living with HIV are at a relatively higher risk than the general population. For instance, research carried out by the Women's Interagency HIV Study shows that HIV-positive women have poorer cardiovascular health than HIV-negative women . When it comes to the risks of heart disease, certain things can't be helped. Family history, genetics, age and gender are all linked to a higher risk of developing heart disease. Fortunately, there are many ways people living with HIV (PHAs) can reduce their risk.

Number one on the list of preventative measures is stopping smoking. The habit is more common among PHAs than in the general population, and stopping smoking is the single most important change to adopt in order to directly improve cardiovascular health. Cutting back on other substances, such as cocaine, speed, crystal meth and ecstasy, also reduces the risk. Speak to your doctor or nurse to get help for quitting tobacco and other substances. Limiting alcohol consumption is also worth considering, as excessive alcohol can harm your liver and boosts levels of triglycerides, which indirectly pose a risk to heart health.

For people taking anti-HIV therapy, stopping treatment can increase the risk for heart attacks and stroke, even among those who have an undetectable viral load. Conversely, some of the anti-HIV drugs raise levels of lipids -another name for fatty substances such cholesterol and triglycerides-in the blood. An increase in lipid levels is linked to increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease. For more information about your lipid levels, speak with your doctor.

Strange as it may seem, maintaining good oral hygiene is another way to prevent the risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that gum disease , resulting from bacterial build-up, can cause low levels of inflammation that that then spreads and can sometimes escalate to cardiovascular disease.

Adopting healthy eating habits is beneficial to the heart, as well as the overall immune system of anyone living with HIV. A healthy diet includes healthier fats, such as olive oil, canola oil and nuts such as almonds and walnuts, while eliminating saturated fats, most often found in fast foods, deep-fried foods and baked goods. Healthy eating also means consuming less sugar and taking in more fiber, like psyllium, oats, peas, beans and nuts. Studies have shown that eating a healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy and whole grains can drastically reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Healthy eating is best complemented by regular exercise: vigorous enough to cause some sweat and repeated three to four times a week, for 30 minutes each time. Your heart and body will love you for it.

When monitoring your overall health , keep a close eye on your cardiovascular health. See your doctor about cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as the sugar levels in your blood. Also, don't be afraid to ask your doctor to verify your blood pressure. A normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg.

For more information from CATIE on heart health, please consult the following resources:

1. • 'Have a heart', The Positive Side
2. •  'Keep your ticker tocking', The Positive Side
3. •  Ask the Experts: Work It!
4. •  'Study in HIV-positive women links heart health to brain functioning', CATIE-News
5. •  Treatment interruption surprisingly does not reduce heart disease risk', TreatmentUpdate 170
6. •  HIV and Cardiovascular Disease: Keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy, CATIE Factsheet
7. •  Chapter 9: Monitor Your Health, Managing Your Health



From Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE). For more information visit CATIE's Information Network at

"Reproduced with permission - Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE)"

Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE)

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