Hepatitis C infected people are not only at increased risk for liver damage, they may also have increased risk for heart disease, says a new study.
The findings emerged from an ongoing study among homosexual men, many of whom were infected with HIV and followed over time to track risk of infection and disease progression.
A subset of the study participants had both HIV and hepatitis C. Risk for heart disease is higher among people infected with HIV. However, researchers wanted to emphasize their results offer strong evidence that hepatitis C can increase the cardiovascular damage.
The study participants infected with hepatitis C were more likely to harbour abnormal fat and calcium plaques inside their arteries, which is a condition known as atherosclerosis, a common forerunner of heart attacks and strokes.
"We believe our findings are relevant to anyone infected with hepatitis C regardless of HIV status," said principal investigator Eric Seaberg, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in US.
The researchers claimed that their evidence is strong enough to warrant vigilant monitoring of cardiac symptoms among people infected with the virus. However, they do not know exactly how the infection with the hepatitis C virus triggers the growth of artery-clogging plaque.
"People infected with hepatitis C are already followed regularly for signs of liver disease, but our findings suggest clinicians who care for them should also assess their overall cardiac risk profile regularly," said study author Wendy Post, professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The study involved 994 participants between the ages of 40 and 70 years, without heart disease were followed across several institutions in several US cities.
Of the 994 participants, 613 were infected with HIV, 70 were infected with both viruses and 17 were only infected with hepatitis C.
The study participants underwent cardiac CT scans to detect and measure the amount of fat and calcium deposits in the arteries.
Those with hepatitis C, regardless of HIV had 30 percent more plaque in their arteries. People with either hepatitis C or HIV had 42 percent more non-calcified fat deposits.
Those who had higher levels of circulating hepatitis C virus in their blood were 50 percent more likely to have clogged arteries compared to men without hepatitis C.
The researchers said that poorly controlled infection may lead to inflammation throughout the body, which can fuel blood vessel damage and contribute to heart disease.
The study was published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.