Recreational cocaine use linked to conditions that cause heart attack

People who regularly use cocaine socially have stiffer arteries, higher blood pressure and thicker heart wall muscle than non-users, according to research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2012.

Australian researchers used (MRI) to measure the effects of cocaine in 20 otherwise healthy adults who chronically used the illegal substance. Compared with 20 non-users, cocaine users had higher rates of multiple factors associated with higher risks of heart attack and stroke:

  • 30 percent to 35 percent increase in aortic stiffening;
  • 8 mm Hg higher systolic blood pressure; and
  • 18 percent greater thickness of the heart's left ventricle wall.
"It's so sad," said Gemma Figtree, M.B.B.S., D.Phil., lead researcher of the study. "We are repeatedly seeing young, otherwise fit individuals suffering massive heart attacks related to . Despite being well-educated professionals, they have no knowledge of the of regularly using cocaine."

"It's the perfect heart attack drug," she said.

The combined effects of greater blood clotting, increased and more blood vessel constriction put users at high risk of a spontaneous heart attack, said Figtree, an associate professor of medicine at Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney in Australia.

A surge of cocaine-related infarcts at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital led the team to study the incidence of in apparently healthy, regular cocaine users.

Researchers recruited recreational cocaine users (17 men, 3 women, average age 37) who reported using cocaine at least once a month for the last year. They completed questionnaires about their drug use, and socioeconomic status. At least 48 hours after their last cocaine use, volunteers had their blood pressure taken and then underwent cardiac MRIs to assess heart mass and levels of heart and aortic functioning. Researchers performed direct comparisons with similar aged non-users, taking into account history of diabetes, smoking and other drug use.

In the study, investigators observed higher systolic blood pressure and increased arterial stiffness, in association with heart wall thickening.

"Stiffer vessels are known to be associated with elevated . As a result, the heart is required to work harder, and its walls become hypertrophied or thicker," Figtree said.

Researchers didn't find evidence of earlier silent heart attacks among cocaine users, contrary to previous studies.

The study is the first to document persistent hypertension and vascular stiffness in cocaine users, long after the acute effects have worn off. Previous studies have shown the immediate effects of cocaine on the heart, and primarily among cocaine addicts—not social users.

Although it is currently unclear how repeated social cocaine use causes blood vessels to stiffen, researchers are investigating a signaling pathway that might be activated to cause such a response.

The study outcomes underscore the need for education about the short- and long-term effects of use to help prevent heart attack and stroke, Figtree said.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Abnormal brain structure linked to chronic cocaine abuse

Jun 21, 2011

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have identified abnormal brain structures in the frontal lobe of cocaine users' brains which are linked to their compulsive cocaine-using behaviour. Their findings were published ...

Cocaine use related to level of education achieved

Aug 29, 2007

The decreased use of cocaine in the United States over the last 20 years mostly occurred among the highly educated, while cocaine use among non-high school graduates remained constant, according to a study by researchers ...

Recommended for you

A novel pathway for prevention of heart attack and stroke

19 hours ago

A recent Finnish study could pave the way for preventing brain and cardiac ischemia induced by atherosclerosis. Finnish researchers have found that the low-expression variant of fatty acid-binding protein 4 (FABP4), which ...

Exercise may protect older women from irregular heartbeat

Aug 20, 2014

Increasing the amount or intensity of physical activity can cut the chances of older women developing a life-threatening irregular heartbeat, according to new research in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA).

Huge discrepancies on heart disease in Europe

Aug 20, 2014

Russians and Ukrainians aged 55 to 59 die from coronary heart disease at a higher rate than Frenchmen who are 20 years older, a study released Wednesday of Europe's cardiovascular health showed.

User comments