The Perfect Heart Attack Drug

Cocaine abuse can create risk factors leading to heart attacks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Cocaine overdoses can often end up in heart attacks. But long-term habitual cocaine use can also change the structure of the heart to set it up for a heart attack not from an overdose.

Those who used cocaine at least once per month showed long-term heart damage that increased their risk of heart attack.

The lead researcher said, “It’s so sad, we are repeatedly seeing young, otherwise fit individuals suffering massive hart attacks related to cocaine use.”

"Don’t use cocaine."

Gemma Figtree, PhD, associate professor of medicine at Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney in Australia, led investigations into the effects of cocaine on the heart muscle.

“Despite being well-educated professionals, they have no knowledge of the health consequences of regularly using cocaine.”

For the study, 40 medically healthy adults with an average age of 37 were tested for heart attack and stroke risk factors associated with cocaine use. Half of the participants were using cocaine on a regular basis (at least once per month), while the other half did not use cocaine at all.

Each participant had a cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of his or her heart at least 48 hours after using cocaine. Meaning, these results were not from the immediate effects of cocaine, but rather from long-term habitual use.

Results of the scan showed people who habitually used cocaine had:

  • Greater aortic stiffness by 30-35 percent
  • Increased systolic blood pressure by 8mm Hg
  • Thicker left ventricle wall of the heart by 18 percent

These changes in the heart muscle put a person at higher risks for heart stress, blood clotting and constriction of blood vessels.

Dr. Figtree said, “It’s the perfect heart attack drug. Stiffer vessels are known to be associated with elevated systolic blood pressure. As a result, the heart is required to work harder, and its walls become hypertrophied or thicker.”

Further studies with larger groups of cocaine abusers would be necessary to understand more fully the consequences of habitual cocaine use on the heart.

These study results were presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2012. Funding for this research was provided by The North Shore Heart Research Foundation. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 6, 2012
Last Updated:
November 11, 2012