Anti-HIV Drugs May Cause Long Term Damage to Fetal Heart Development

Study finds treatment that prevents transmission of virus from mother to child leads to reduced heart performance.

Study finds treatment that prevents transmission of virus from mother to child leads to reduced heart performance.

Concerns are raised regarding the long-term health impact from anti-HIV medications on the fetuses of infected pregnant women who were treated with the drugs, following the results of a recent study.

Published this month in the journal AIDS, the study found that HIV medications that effectively prevent transmission of the virus from mother-to-infant may also hinder the development of heart muscle and cause reduced heart performance in the non-infected children whose mothers received the drugs.

"What our study indicates is that there's potentially a long-term price to be paid for protecting the children of HIV-infected mothers from the virus," lead author Steven E. Lipshultz, MD, said in a press release. "These medicines have been very effective at reducing the rate of transmission of HIV from mother to child, but the findings we've just published show clearly that further investigation of their long-term impact on the heart health of the children involved is needed.”

The researchers examined data from 2007 to 2012 that compared heart development and long-term function in 428 uninfected children of HIV-infected mothers who received antiretroviral therapy with children who were not exposed to HIV during that timeframe. The analysis indicated a significant link between impaired muscle development and pumping ability in the hearts of children whose mothers were treated the drugs.

"Subclinical differences in left ventricular structure and function with specific in-utero antiviral exposures indicate the need for a longitudinal study to assess long-term cardiac risk and cardiac monitoring recommendations," Dr. Lipshultz said.

The results of the study raise concerns regarding the impact of drugs prescribed to treat children for both chronic conditions and for short-term use, which may ultimately harm their growth and development into the future. While effective, the drugs need to be evaluated for long-term safety in order to allow providers to consider other treatments that may carry less serious safety risks, the researchers noted.

"Thanks to the new anti-HIV medications, the rate of transmission has been lowered from 26% to less than 1% during the past few decades, and that has been a miracle of life for the children involved,” Dr. Lipshultz added. “Still, we don't want to be protecting these children from one disease, only to give them another one.”