Increased risk of age-related diseases for HIV positive populations

30 September 2014
An HIV ribbon

Huge advances have been made in treating HIV leading to an increased life expectancy for people infected by HIV. Although, recent studies of older HIV positive generations highlight the additional challenges these populations face. A study presented at the 2014 International AIDS conference has found that people living with HIV (PLWHIV) have been found to be at greater risk of suffering from age-related diseases than HIV-negative infected individuals.

The study carried out cross-sectional comparisons between 540 HIV positive people and 524 HIV negative people aged over 45 years. The study found HIV positive subjects were significantly more likely to suffer from age-related diseases such as hypertension, heart attacks and impaired renal function than HIV negative subjects. Additionally, HIV positive individuals were more likely to suffer from these diseases at an earlier age than HIV negative individuals. Findings revealed that factors such as weight, a history of smoking and genetics all impacted upon someone’s risk of developing such diseases. However, long periods of immunodeficiency among HIV positive participants was also found to significantly increase the risk of developing age-related diseases. The researchers suggest that these findings may support evidence of premature ageing among HIV positive populations, however, whether HIV is an additional risk factor in conjunction with traditional risk factors of ageing or if HIV directly impacts and speeds up the biological ageing process remains uncertain.

Significantly more research is required in this area to untangle ageing and HIV, to ascertain how exactly HIV impacts upon early ageing and increased co-morbidity of age-related diseases. In the UK alone it is predicted that by 2015 over 50% of the HIV positive population will be over 50 years old. Therefore it is important that these additional health challenges are holistically and effectively considered, with HIV service provision considering both HIV care and care of co-morbid diseases. ARV treatment has undoubtedly enabled people to live longer lives, however, it is clear that the provision of treatment alone cannot effectively deal with the multiple health challenges these populations face whilst growing old with HIV.

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