Cardiovascular Disease Risk May Be Significantly Higher Among Young Men Who Have Sex With Men, Study Finds

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Chicago – Young men who have sex with men (YMSM) may be at a three-fold risk of cardiovascular disease due to high levels of systemic inflammation, reports a new Institute of Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing study. Systemic inflammation is commonly associated with HIV infection, but the study shows elevated inflammation levels among YMSM regardless of their HIV infection status. The study was published in the Journal of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndromes.

“High levels of systemic inflammation lead not only cardiovascular disease but also to a host of other chronic diseases, including diabetes and cancer,” shared Dr. Ethan Morgan, a lead author of the study. “This knowledge is key as we investigate adverse health outcomes among sexual and gender minorities,” he said.

ISGMH’s study is among the first to assess systemic inflammation among YMSM, who account for nearly 70% of all new HIV diagnoses among young adults in the United States. The authors pulled data from 295 participants in ISGMH’s RADAR project, which focuses on the drivers of HIV infection among YMSM and transgender women (age 16-29) living in the Chicago metropolitan area.

The study measured blood plasma levels of C-reactive proteins CRP, markers of inflammation, among HIV-positive and HIV-negative YMSM. Key findings include:

  • 49.8% of participants had CRP values ≥3 mg/L, a threshold which indicates three-fold increase in risk of cardiovascular disease
  • CRP values were elevated among both HIV-negative and HIV-positive young MSM
  • No significant association was observed between CRP and HIV-status nor between the cytokine most tightly causally linked to CRP induction, IL-6, and HIV-status
  • TNF-alpha was significantly higher among HIV-positive participants, suggesting there may be an additional HIV infection-related pathogenetic mechanism driving systemic inflammation among young MSM

Dr. Morgan calls for continued research to identify the driver of systematic inflammation among YMSM, in order to inform medical interventions aimed at reducing health disparities within that population.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health. It was also enabled by services of the Viral Pathogenesis Core of the Third Coast Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), an NIH funded center.