People with AIDS often take three or more medicines, including a category of drugs called protease inhibitors that are a key ingredient of the pill combinations. New research raises the possibility that life saving AIDS drugs may also increase the risk of heart trouble, though experts say the medicines' benefits outweigh any danger. Researchers are at odds over whether the drug combinations are bad for the heart.
The drug combinations have been in widespread use for about six years and have prevented thousands of AIDS deaths. However, doctors are still learning about possible long-term effects. Some of these side effects quickly became apparent, including odd rearrangements of body fat and a variety of metabolic abnormalities, such as changes in cholesterol levels. But it was uncertain whether these would eventually lead to extra heart trouble.
Some of the strongest evidence of a possible heart risk comes from a promising study. It suggests that the overall risk is low, because most patients are relatively young. Nevertheless, those on the drugs have about five times the usual risk of heart attacks. Protease inhibitors influence the body's ability to regulate sugar and fat levels in the blood, and there is some evidence of an overall increase in heart attacks among people being treated.