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AIDS treatments may up heart attack risk

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BOSTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) -- The powerful drugs that beat back the AIDS virus may have a deadly drawback -- they may increase the risk of heart attack, according to a study in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

However the findings may not be the final answer on whether the AIDS virus, HIV, or the drugs used to treat it, heighten the odds of heart problems.

Another study published in the Journal earlier this year suggested that heart disease rates were not higher among people taking the latest HIV treatments. Smaller studies had suggested that the risk was real.

The largest studies may have reached different conclusions because neither included a control group of uninfected people, said Peter Sklar and Henry Masur in an editorial in the Journal.

They suggested that the weight of the evidence seems to show that people who are taking the antiretroviral drugs now used to fight off HIV face a greater likelihood of heart attack. But the magnitude of that risk is still unknown.

"Antiretroviral therapies have been among the miracles of recent decades," they said. "Yet we must work toward mitigating the toxic effects that have the potential to diminish the quality and duration of patients' survival over the long term."

The study published on Wednesday found that the heart attack risk rose by 26 percent per year for people taking the drugs.

However, the rate of heart disease in that age group is relatively low to begin with.

Only 126 of the 23,468 patients had heart attacks over an 18-month period, according to the latest study, led by Jens Lundgren of Hvidovre University Hospital in Copenhagen.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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