With the widespread use of antiretroviral therapy (ART), people with HIV now have a lifespan approximately equal to the general population. However, HIV can cause a variety of different health issues, like joint and muscle pain. Many people wonder about whether HIV can also affect their blood pressure.
Is it possible that, with HIV, low blood pressure or high blood pressure could be a concern? What do we know about the relationship between HIV and high blood pressure or low blood pressure?
Can HIV cause high blood pressure?
Research has found that there’s a link between HIV infection and high blood pressure. High blood pressure is very common in American adults, particularly as they get older. With HIV, there’s a slightly higher risk of developing high blood pressure as you get older.
It’s believed that HIV does not directly cause high blood pressure. Instead, there are a number of indirect ways that HIV can cause high blood pressure.
- HIV is linked to kidney dysfunction. This can eventually lead to high blood pressure, because the kidneys are responsible for regulating fluid levels in the body.
- People with HIV also have higher levels of cholesterol in the blood. This tends to deposit in the walls of arteries, leading to high blood pressure.
- HIV constantly activates your immune system, leading to chronic inflammation. This inflammation tends to cause stiffening of blood vessels over time, which can also contribute to high blood pressure.
- HIV or the meds that treat it are believed to have effects on your gut bacteria. This can contribute to a greater risk of high blood pressure, although the mechanisms behind this are not yet fully understood.
- Stress is known to lead to high blood pressure. People living with HIV may experience significant stress due to the stigma surrounding the disease and their concerns over their own health.
While it is clear that HIV can indirectly cause hypertension, the relationship between HIV and blood pressure is still not fully understood. More research is needed in this area in order to determine the exact mechanisms by which HIV leads to high blood pressure.
What can you do about HIV and high blood pressure?
It’s important for HIV-positive people to be aware of the potential link between HIV and high blood pressure, and to monitor their blood pressure on a regular basis. If your blood pressure is high, then getting treatment can help to prevent serious and even fatal health consequences.
Not all people who have HIV are aware of their status. This is because HIV often doesn’t cause significant symptoms until relatively late in the course of the disease. The only way to know for sure whether or not you have HIV is to get a blood test, either in a clinic or using a home testing service. Remember that if you’ve had a potential exposure to the virus, the test generally won’t turn positive until weeks to months later. If you have an exposure and you get a negative test soon after, you will want to retest in about three months to make sure.
Deeks SG, Tracy R, et al. Systemic Effects of Inflammation on Health during Chronic HIV Infection. Immunity. 2013 Oct 17; 39(4): 633–645.doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2013.10.001
HIV and Heart Disease. National Institutes of Health. https://hivinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv/fact-sheets/hiv-and-heart-disease. Accessed 28 April 2022.
HIV and Kidney Disease. National Institutes of Health. https://hivinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv/fact-sheets/hiv-and-kidney-disease. Accessed 28 April 2022.
What’s the connection between high blood pressure and HIV? American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/05/25/whats-the-connection-between-high-blood-pressure-and-hiv. Accessed 28 April 2022