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The findings held true even for people with well-controlled HIV, according to researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). In sudden cardiac arrest, also referred to as sudden cardiac death, the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating.
The researchers looked at the health records of more than 2,800 HIV patients from April 2000 to August 2009. About 8 percent died during an average follow-up period of nearly four years.
Cardiac-related events accounted for 15 percent of those deaths. Of those, 86 percent of the patients died of sudden cardiac death.
When researchers accounted for age, race and other variables, people with HIV had more than four times the risk of experiencing sudden cardiac death compared to the overall population of San Francisco.
"The fact that the vast majority of cardiac deaths were sudden is surprising and implies that we as clinicians need to be aware of this potential health issue among patients with HIV," senior study author Dr. Priscilla Hsue, an associate professor of medicine at UCSF and director of the HIV Cardiology Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, said in a university news release.
"Our findings also highlight many things that we still don't know about HIV and sudden death," she added. "Did these individuals die of unrecognized coronary artery disease? What can we be doing as clinicians to identify patients at risk and to intervene beforehand?"
The study appears in the May 15 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
In 2003, sudden cardiac death accounted for the largest number of non-AIDS deaths among HIV patients in San Francisco. These sudden cardiac deaths occurred mostly in patients with well-controlled HIV.
"Now that HIV-infected individuals are living longer with the benefit of antiretroviral therapy, non-AIDS conditions are becoming increasingly important and at the top of this list is cardiovascular disease," said study first author Dr. Zian Tseng, an electrophysiologist and associate professor of medicine in the UCSF division of cardiology.
Although this research showed an association between HIV/AIDS and increased incidence of sudden cardiac death, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
-- Robert Preidt
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