Regular cocaine use significantly raises the risk of heart attack and stroke for otherwise healthy young people, a new study has found.
The study, presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions today, showed that young people who used cocaine at least once a month had up to a 35% increase in aortic stiffening, higher blood pressure than non-users and an 18% greater thickness of the heart’s left ventricle wall – all factors that boost the risk of cardiac arrest.
“It’s the perfect heart attack drug,” author Associate Professor Gemma Figtree from the University of Sydney’s Kolling Institute of Medical Research said in a statement.
“We are repeatedly seeing young, otherwise fit individuals suffering massive heart attacks related to cocaine use. Despite being well-educated professionals, they have no knowledge of the health consequences of regularly using cocaine.”
The research was prompted by a surge in otherwise healthy cocaine-users presenting at Royal North Shore hospital with heart problems.
The study involved two groups with an average age of 37: 20 non-users and 20 people who reported using cocaine once a month.
Both groups were given blood tests and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging tests to look for early signs of heart attack risk such as thickening of arteries and higher systolic blood pressure.
The subjects’ history of diabetes, smoking and other drug use was factored into the study.
Previous studies have focused on cocaine addicts rather than social users and have not shown the long term effects on the heart.
Dr Alex Wodak, from the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst said the study added more detail to the body of knowledge around cocaine use and heart risk.
“The other concern about cocaine use is that heart disease is exacerbated when the cocaine is taken with alcohol, which it often is,” he said.
Combining the two creates a compound in the body called cocaethylene, which is toxic to the heart, said Dr Wodak.
“That’s not generally known, so people who take cocaine would be advised not to take alcohol with it.”
Dr Wodak added that while it was known that cocaine is associated with an increased risk of coronary events, noone knew just how big that risk is.
“Much more important factors for coronary artery disease are poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and excess alcohol,” he said.
“These factors are all very common. Cocaine use is pretty uncommon.”