Credit: Medicues

HIV patients may have a better chance at avoiding life-threatening conditions related to the treatment they are receiving, following a breakthrough finding by Australian researchers.

The research looked into the effects of two popular anti-HIV drugs -Ritonavir and Raltegravir- to assess if both drugs contribute to an elevated prevalence of heart disease and heart attack among those taking them.

The results found that the older drug - Ritonavir- which is commonly used in HIV treatments, that was previously connected with heart risks, had higher adverse effects on people's metabolisms than Raltegravir - the new drug.

Associate Professor Katherine Samaras said Ritonavir increases blood fat levels in people who are fasting and also after they have taken meals.

The metabolic abnormalities increases the risks of heart disease, as the drug causes abdominal weight gain, an increase in cholesterol levels and a resistance against insulin.

Twenty people without HIV infection took part in the study. They were divided into groups that took Ritonavir or Raltegravir for one month period.

The team of scientists including Prof Samaras and Professor Andrew Carr, both from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and St Vincent's Hospital assessed blood fat, glucose and insulin levels, as well as the arteries' stiffness six hours after the subjects had taken their meal.

One observation helped explain the higher risk for people who take Ritonavir that make them prone to heart disease - elevated blood fat levels observed in the subjects who took Ritonavir.

For Prof Samaras, the debate that has been going on as to whether the drug or the virus was the culprit had been cleared - as they believe that the virus does not cause the metabolic abnormalities.

The new finding will affect clinicians in the west, but Prof Samaras advices people not to rush unnecessarily to quit taking the drug.

The important step for clinicians is to assess their patients' heart risk profile before giving them a prescription.

She said the best drug to prescribe for patients to control the virus is decided only after the risks and benefits of the treatment are taken into account.