ARE OLDER ADULTS WITH HIV MORE LIKELY TO HAVE HEART DISEASE?
Yes. Apart from the other common causes of heart disease, the virus itself can raise your cholesterol, or cause direct heart damage over time. In addition, the chronic activation of the immune system caused by HIV, known as “inflammation”, increases your risk of heart disease even if your viral load is undetectable.
IS THAT SERIOUS?
Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. It can also cause weakness, pain, or problems breathing. Even if heart disease doesn’t kill you, it can lessen your ability to be active, to work, and to enjoy life. Even if your HIV is under control, your risk of heart disease is higher than someone who is HIV negative, so talk to your doctor about what you can do to lower your risk.
TELL YOUR DOCTOR IF YOU DON’T FEEL WELL
Many symptoms can be signs of heart disease, including chest pain, problems breathing, and pain in the left arm or jaw. Women may experience these same symptoms, or may have pain in the upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, or extreme fatigue. Tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms, so tests can be done.
If they’re ignored, you might not find out until you have a heart attack and it’s too late. The symptoms of a stroke are different and involve the face drooping on one side, weakness or feeling numb on one side of the body, or speech difficulty. If any of these symptoms develop suddenly call 911 immediately. Don’t just go to the ER, since you will be seen more quickly if you are brought in by an ambulance. In the case of a stroke or heart attack, every minute counts!
CONTROL OTHER DISEASES
Many conditions can worsen heart problems. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Your doctor should check your blood pressure, glucose level, and cholesterol regularly. Making sure these are under control will protect your heart.
TAKE YOUR MEDS
Take your meds as prescribed. Your heart does better if your blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, and other conditions are under control – especially your blood pressure.
EAT A HEALTHY DIET
Diets that are high in fat, salt, or sugar can cause heart disease. A balanced diet lowers your risk of heart disease. To plan a balanced diet, ask for help from a nutritionist.
Exercise helps your heart stay strong. It also helps lower things that worsen heart disease, like high glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Even a bit of exercise helps, and any type of exercise is better than none.
Walking is great, but it’s best to do more than that if you can. If you’re not sure where to start, ask to see a physical therapist.
Smoking dramatically increases your risk of heart disease and many other diseases. If you want to quit smoking, ask your doctor for help.
DRINK IN MODERATION
Too much alcohol is unhealthy. People with HIV should have no more than one drink a day. “One drink” means one bottle of beer, one glass of wine, or one shot of gin, vodka, or other liquor.
It’s important to be honest with your doctor about how much you drink. Ask if that amount is right for you and be sure to drink safely (never while driving or using machinery). Also, ask if alcohol will interact with any of your meds.
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