Association of Syndemic Unhealthy Alcohol Use, Smoking, and Depressive Symptoms on Incident Cardiovascular Disease among Veterans With and Without HIV-Infection

Unhealthy alcohol use, smoking, and depressive symptoms are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Little is known about their co-occurrence – termed a syndemic, defined as the synergistic effect of two or more conditions-on CVD risk in people with HIV (PWH). We used data from 5621 CVD-free participants (51% PWH) in the Veteran’s Aging Cohort Study-8, a prospective, observational study of veterans followed from 2002 to 2014 to assess the association between this syndemic and incident CVD by HIV status. Diagnostic codes identified cases of CVD (acute myocardial infarction, stroke, heart failure, peripheral artery disease, and coronary revascularization). Validated measures of alcohol use, smoking, and depressive symptoms were used. Baseline number of syndemic conditions was categorized (0, 1, ≥ 2 conditions). Multivariable Cox Proportional Hazards regressions estimated risk of the syndemic (≥ 2 conditions) on incident CVD by HIV-status. There were 1149 cases of incident CVD (52% PWH) during the follow-up (median 10.1 years). Of the total sample, 64% met our syndemic definition. The syndemic was associated with greater risk for incident CVD among PWH (Hazard Ratio [HR] 1.87 [1.47-2.38], p < 0.001) and HIV-negative veterans (HR 1.70 [1.35-2.13], p < 0.001), compared to HIV-negative with zero conditions. Among those with the syndemic, CVD risk was not statistically significantly higher among PWH vs. HIV-negative (HR 1.10 [0.89, 1.37], p = .38). Given the high prevalence of this syndemic combined with excess risk of CVD, these findings support linked-screening and treatment efforts.