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HPV May Be Linked to Heart Attack, Stroke in Women

Study Suggests Vaccine for Human Papillomavirus Could One Day Help Prevent Heart Disease
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 24, 2011 -- It's well known that several types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause most cases of cervical cancer. Now new research suggests that some of these same types of HPV may also increase a woman's likelihood of having a heart attack and/or stroke -- even without any other risk factors.

HPV can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. It has been linked to genital warts as well as cervical, vaginal, vulvar, oral, penile, and anal cancers.

Two HPV vaccines are now approved by the FDA. Both of these vaccines are recommended to prevent cervical cancers. They are now on the CDC's childhood routine vaccination schedule for girls starting at age 9.

If validated, the new research suggests that the HPV shot may also help prevent heart disease and stroke in some women.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

HPV and Heart Attack Risk

The study included information on 2,500 women aged 20 to 59. Of these, 44.6% tested positive for HPV, and 23.2% tested positive for the HPV strains that are linked to cervical cancer.

Women with HPV infection are 2.3 times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke as women who are not infected with these strains of HPV, says study researcher Hsu-Ko Kuo, MD, MPH, of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

"For every 55 females with HPV, there will be one heart attack or stroke," he says. This was true even in the absence of other known risk factors for heart attack or stroke such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high body mass index.

Exactly how -- or even if -- HPV increases a woman's risk for heart attack and stroke is not known. It may affect certain genes that help protect the arteries from atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). This process sets the stage for heart attack and stroke.

The next step is to try to understand this further, he says. After that, researchers want to examine the link in older women and men to see if the findings still hold. Then "we hope to look at the effects of vaccine to see if it can protect females from heart disease," he says.

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