WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The AIDS virus, HIV, may cause blood clots and other problems with blood vessels that can kill patients prematurely even if they are relatively healthy, researchers reported on Monday.
They found that patients given breaks from their HIV prescriptions had higher levels of blood proteins associated with inflammation, an often dangerous immune response.
The international study showed why it may be risky to give patients “breaks” from the drug cocktails that suppress the virus, the researchers reported in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine.
The findings come from an international study into whether it would be truly beneficial to let patients take their HIV drug cocktails only intermittently after research had shown this was safe, would save money, and limit side-effects from the drugs.
But the study was stopped early, in 2006, because patients who took breaks from their drug therapy were far more likely to die early than patients who took treatment continuously, and not from conditions usually associated with AIDS, the researchers found.
James Neaton of the University of Minnesota and colleagues looked at 85 of the patients who died early, and compared their blood samples to 170 patients who did not.
They found three so-called biomarkers, or blood proteins, that are linked with inflammation were higher in the people who died. They were high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, interleukin 6 (IL-6), and D-dimer.
“IL-6 and D-dimer were strongly related to all-cause mortality. Interrupting (HIV drugs) may further increase the risk of death by raising IL-6 and D-dimer levels,” the researchers wrote.
“The magnitude of the increased risk of death associated with elevations of these biomarkers is clinically relevant,” Neaton said in a statement. “Research aimed at understanding whether treating elevated levels of these markers is beneficial and is now needed.”
The researchers said it may be possible to develop drugs that fight this inflammation.
Inflammation in general is linked with a range of heart conditions, cancer and possibly diabetes.
Other studies have shown that HIV affects the insides of the blood vessels and may make blood more likely to clot. These clots can cause heart attacks, strokes and pulmonary embolisms.
Cocktails of HIV drugs, called highly active antiretroviral therapy or HAART, keep the virus from replicating in the blood and destroying immune system cells. While there is no cure for HIV, these drugs can keep patients healthy.
Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by David Storey