In a study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine comparing medical information from portable EKG patch data from men living with HIV
and also men without it, the researchers report they have found more variability of the electrical "reset" period between heartbeats known as the QT interval in men living with the virus, which may contribute to the increased risk of sudden cardiac deaths.
The findings was published in the journal Circulation
and presented during the annual American Heart Association Scientific Sessions meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Lead author Amir Heravi, a medical student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine told Thailand Medical
News, "The take-home message to patients and providers at this time is that it's still most important to treat early and control HIV
infection with antiretroviral therapies, stick to therapy and continue to monitor virus levels. Also, people should work to reduce traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors by following a healthy diet, keeping fit, quitting smoking and treating diabetes to compensate for any additional burden of HIV
on the heart."
Themedical researchers say, if further studies confirm and extend their findings, physicians may eventually be able to use this measure of erratic electrical activity in the heart to more precisely assess a person's risk for sudden cardiac death
, and identify ways to intervene to hopefully limit or stop risk.
The increase in sudden cardiac death in people living with HIV
was first substantially documented in 2012 in an HIV
clinic in the San Francisco Bay area, but the biological roots of the increase have remained unclear. In a bid to learn more, the Johns Hopkins researchers used data collected from the National Institutes of Health Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS), an ongoing 30-year study that follows the health of gay and bisexual men from four US cities. Specifically, they focused on medical information gathered from 534 men without HIV
infection, and 589 men living with HIV
, of whom 83% had undetectable levels of the virus in their blood as a result of antiretroviral therapy. Some 61% of the men self-identified as white, 25% as African American and 14% as Hispanic or "other." Participants were an average age of 57, and those with HIV
had been treated for the disease for approximately 13 years.
Every patient wore a portable electrocardiogram (ECG) "patch" device to continuously measure heart rhythms. The researchers analyzed 3-4 days of data on the intervals between beats, when the electrical signals that drive heart rhythms are not firing. This electrical relaxation phase, during which the heart is preparing to send another pulse for a new beat is known as the QT interval. Variations in the length of time of the QT interval between each heartbeat in each person are well documented, and greater variation is known to increase risk for abnormal and sometimes fatal heart rhythms.
The medical researchers used a calculation that takes into account the heart rate and the QT interval ultimately to calculate the QT interval variability. Although a universal threshold between healthy and unhealthy levels hasn't yet been adopted, it's generally accepted that higher values translate to more heart disease and higher risk, the researchers say. They found that compared to men without HIV
, men with HIV
had a more variable QT interval, 0.077 greater than what would be expected for their heart rate variability. Moreover, they found this variability was also linked to the amount of virus e
ach man carried, as measured with a blood test. The men living with HIV, but with undetectable HIV
virus had an average QT interval variability of just 0.064 greater than men without HIV
, whereas men with higher levels of virus had an average of 0.150 greater QT interval variability.
The researchers then compared information in ways that might show how strongly the HIV
link is to the QT interval variation compared to other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, opioid use, high cholesterol levels, obesity, smoking and diabetes. Overall, they say, the data suggest that the extent of abnormal electrical relaxation variation in the heart in men living with HIV
infection was comparable to that of 8 years of aging in those without detectable virus in the blood and close to 20 years of aging in those with detectable virus.
Dr Wendy Post, M.D., M.S., another senior study author and professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine told Thailand Medical
News, "Living with HIV
with detectable virus was linked to a larger effect on QT interval variation than any other cardiovascular disease risk factor included in the study, except for diabetes."
Also, the researchers collected blood samples from the participants and analyzed them for known inflammatory molecules. They found that men with HIV
had 14% more of the inflammation marker IL-6, and 22% more sCD163 compared with men who didn't have HIV. They found these higher levels of inflammation were also associated with more QT variability and arrhythmia risk. As men living with HIV
are known to have higher levels of inflammation, the researchers say, this finding could explain how HIV
infection and the electrical system of the heart may be connected.
Lead author Amir Heravi further added, "HIV
puts people in a state of chronic heightened inflammation and that might be a major contributor to why the heart is prone to abnormal rhythms. However, inflammation would only partly explain our findings and our results showed even after adjusting for effects of inflammation, HIV
infection was associated with higher QT variability. We think it may be a combination of the virus and the body's reaction to the virus via inflammation that ultimately contributes to an increased risk of sudden cardiac death
There are about 43 million people living with HIV
globally while in the US alone, there are about 1.2 million according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This does not include millions walking around that have yet to have been tested yet despite being infected.
Reference : Amir S. Heravi et al. HIV Infection is Associated with Variability in Ventricular Repolarization: The Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS), Circulation (2019). DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.043042