People infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease, a new study has found.
The findings, published in the journal Circulation, suggested that the virus is also thought to raise fat levels in the blood and affect the body's ability to regulate sugar levels, factors which may contribute to heart disease.
The study's co-author, Anoop Shah from the University of Edinburgh, said:
This study has important implications when planning cardiovascular preventative policies in low resource countries where the burden of HIV remains high and that of cardiovascular disease is growing.
According to the researchers, the link between HIV and heart disease is poorly understood. They think the virus may cause inflammation of blood vessels, which puts pressure on the cardiovascular system.
The analysis of global figures also revealed that HIV-associated cardiovascular disease has more than tripled in the past 20 years as more people are living longer despite the infection.
In some parts of the world, HIV ranks alongside better-known risk factors - such as diet and lifestyle - as a major cause of heart disease.
There are more than 35 million people infected with HIV worldwide, a figure that is steadily increasing. Those infected are now more likely to die from chronic diseases, such as cancer or cardiovascular disease because life-saving medications can keep the virus in check, the researcher said.
For the study, the researchers reviewed studies, which included almost 8,00,000 people, from 153 countries, to determine the rate of heart disease in people living with HIV.
The team also calculated the number of years lost as a result of death or ill-health in each country to measure the disease's global impact.
The researcher found that the risk of cardiovascular disease among people living with HIV was double the rate among uninfected people.
They also found that more than two-thirds of the burden of HIV-associated heart disease was found in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia Pacific regions.