After controlling for age, women living with HIV (WLHIV) who had a higher syndemic burden—i.e., more adverse conditions—had higher diastolic blood pressure and viral load compared to those with a low burden, a small study published in AIDS found.
Based on data from the Women’s Interagency HIV Study, researchers assessed the syndemic burden of 131 women (average age 60.5 years, 49% Black), specifically focusing on low education (high school degree or less), obesity, cigarette use, and depressive symptoms. A high burden was defined as at least two of these conditions, which the study authors noted are each associated with blood pressure, inflammation, and overall health among people living with HIV.
The researchers found that 88% of study participants had at least one syndemic factor, with 44% meeting the definition of high syndemic burden. Compared to women with low syndemic burden (and after controlling for age), women with high systemic burden had a statistically significant higher average viral load (4.63 log10 vs. 3.88 log10) and diastolic blood pressure (79.3 vs. 73.5). No similar associations were seen for CD4 count or systolic blood pressure.
In addition, no association was observed between the psychosocial conditions investigated and Interleukin-6, an inflammation marker, even though individual conditions have been linked to inflammation. A relatively high overall IL-6 level may account for this finding, study authors noted.
Risk factors don’t arise in isolation and need to be studied together to develop multi-level interventions for improving health, they suggested, concluding: “Targeted interventions to address syndemic burden may help improve health outcomes in WLHIV as well as reduce the risk of hypertension and HIV transmission.”