People with HIV are four times more likely to suffer sudden cardiac death than the general population, according to a new study by researchers at UC San Francisco.
The 10-year study, published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, looked at nearly 3,000 HIV patients at San Francisco General Hospital between 2000 and 2009. Among the 230 who died, AIDS was the most common cause, accounting for more than half the deaths. But 13 percent suffered sudden cardiac death, when the heart stops beating unexpectedly.
The researchers compared the numbers with the general population, adjusted for demographics, and found the rate was more than four times higher for people with HIV.
“This is far from a definitive study — it’s a very provocative observation,” said Dr. Zian Tseng, an electrophysiologist and associate professor at UCSF.
Tseng, the study’s first author, said that while working on a study of sudden death in San Francisco he noticed many of the people who died suddenly were HIV patients.
Tseng called Dr. Priscilla Hsue, a fellow UCSF professor and the director of the HIV Cardiology Clinic at General Hospital. Hsue, who specializes in treating cardiac patients with HIV, said this was the first time doctors had made the connection.
“In the past, when HIV patients died, most people thought it was AIDS,” said Hsue, the study’s senior author.
While it was already known that HIV accelerates cardiovascular disease, the study shows just how important it is to treat people with HIV as more than their diagnosis, the researchers said.
The researchers are now working on a follow-up study, looking at possible reasons for the connection between HIV and sudden cardiac death.
Meanwhile, the doctors say people with HIV who experience warning signs such as chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations or fainting should see their doctors.