Conference Coverage

Aging with HIV adds to comorbidity burden



The age of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV is in its third decade, and many of the patients who live in areas of the world fortunate enough to have had early access to therapy have now lived for several decades with complications of HIV and viral suppressive therapy.

But while the life-expectancy of persons with HIV has approached that of noninfected persons over the last 20 years, the higher burden of comorbidities for aging patients with HIV has remained largely the same, according to an epidemiologist who specializes in HIV/AIDS research and aging.

“The pathways from HIV and its treatments to comorbidities are very long and winding, spanning a life course. Social determinants of health and individual risk factors also play an important role, and must be considered,” said Keri N. Althoff, PhD, MPH, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

Dr. Althoff discussed long-term complications of HIV and its treatment in a virtual symposium during an annual scientific meeting on infectious diseases.

“Many urban HIV providers have an increased proportion of patients who are older long-term survivors of the epidemic. Many, but not all of the comorbidities (including cardiovascular, neurocognitive, renal, and malignancies) have been associated with age, long-term HIV infection, especially uncontrolled HIV infection, and low CD4 nadirs,” commented Harry Lampiris, MD, professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

“An increasing number of patients are experiencing geriatric syndromes (especially problems with mobility, cognitive decline, food insecurity, polypharmacy, and social isolation) at younger ages than HIV-negative populations,” he added.

Dr. Lampiris, who moderated the session where Dr. Althoff presented her findings, commented on it in an interview, but was not involved in her research.

Pathways to comorbidity

The three primary pathways to comorbidities in people with HIV infections are as follows, according to Dr. Athloff:

  • The virus itself, with its associated inflammation, immunosuppression, immune activation, and AIDS.
  • HIV therapies, beginning with the notoriously toxic dideoxynucleoside analogues or “d-drugs,” and following with subsequent generations of newer, less toxic agents.
  • Individual risk factors, including smoking, stress, diet, exercise, and environment.

Cardiovascular and renal complications

Persons with HIV have an approximately twofold higher risk for major adverse cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction, stroke) compared with persons without HIV. Conditions contributing to cardiovascular disease including hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia are also significantly higher among persons with HIV, Dr. Althoff said.

Hypertension among persons with HIV from the ages 60-69 years is especially high for Black men and to a lesser degree non-Black men, compared with either White or Black women, she noted.

Pathways to renal disease in persons with HIV include diabetes and hypertension, as well as therapies to treat them, hepatitis B and C coinfection, HIV-associated nephropathy, and immune complex kidney disease, as well as chronic kidney disease resulting from acute kidney injury related to therapy.

“Cardiovascular disease and kidney disease are excellent examples of why the life-course perspective is essential when caring for people with HIV. For those diagnosed with HIV at younger ages, there are points of intervention along the decades-long path, and the timing and implementation of the most effective intervention may preserve comorbidity-free years,” Dr. Althoff said.

Prevention and screening interventions to lower risk for future heart- and kidney-related comorbidities include smoking cessation and lifestyle optimization (diet, exercise, mental health), as well as lipid-lowering medications to lower risk for cardiovascular events.


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