Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
HPV and Heart Disease: Is There a Connection?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the Unites States. In 2007, a national study found that about one in four women were infected with the virus, including about 25 percent of teenage girls, 45 percent of those age 20 through 24, and about 20 percent of women age 50 through 59. The virus is best known as the cause of genital warts, but we now understand that it also contributes to the overwhelming majority of cases of cervical cancer. Some forms of anal and penile cancer can also be attributed to HPV.
In 2006, Merck introduced Gardisil, a vaccine that has the power to prevent this devastating disease. Many people who become infected will eventually clear the virus. However, there is no fully effective cure for HPV once it has taken hold.
Connecting HPV with heart health might seem a bit of a stretch, but Dr. Hsu-Ko Kuo and Dr. Ken Fujise from the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, found that there does indeed appear to be a link.
The researchers, who reported their findings in the November 1, 2011 edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that those women ages 20 through 59 who tested positive for the virus were more than twice as likely to have had a heart attack or stroke compared to those who did not have evidence of HPV infection. Exactly why or how HPV could impact cardiovascular disease risk was not clear from this study, although inflammation may be a factor.
For now, if you have HPV, it makes sense to take your heart health seriously. Get your cholesterol and blood pressure tested, exercise regularly and choose a heart smart diet. Ask your doctor if additional screening tests might be helpful. If you don’t have HPV and are sexually active, this is one more reason to practice safe sex. It only takes one exposure to the virus to trigger an infection that could cost your life, or the life of someone you love. And if you have a young son or daughter, talk with your pediatrician or family doctor to decide whether vaccination is right for your child.
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