TUESDAY, Nov. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Regular social users of cocaine are more likely to have health factors that increase their risk of heart attack, a new study reports.
Australian researchers used MRI scans to assess 20 otherwise healthy adults who regularly used the illegal drug and 20 non-users and found that the cocaine users had stiffer arteries, higher blood pressure and thicker heart wall muscle.
Specifically, the cocaine users had: 30 percent to 35 percent greater stiffening of the aorta (the largest artery in the body); 8 mm Hg higher systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading); and 18 percent greater thickness of the heart's left ventricle wall, the investigators found.
The combined effects of greater blood clotting, increased heart stress and more blood vessel constriction put the cocaine users at high risk for heart attack, said lead researcher Gemma Figtree, an associate professor of medicine at Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney, Australia.
"It's so sad. 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," she said in a news release from the American Heart Association.
"It's the perfect heart attack drug," Figtree added.
The findings were scheduled for presentation Monday at the American Heart Association annual meeting, in Los Angeles.
Previous studies have shown that cocaine can cause short-term high blood pressure and artery stiffness, but this is the first study to show that these effects can be long-term, the researchers noted in the news release.
The findings highlight the need to educate people about the short- and long-term effects of cocaine use to help prevent heart attack and stroke, Figtree said.
The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about cocaine and its health effects.
SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Nov. 5, 2012
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