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Cocaine heightens heart attack risk, research shows


May 31, 1999
Web posted at: 4:20 p.m. EDT (2020 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Within the first hour of taking cocaine, the risk of having a heart attack jumps nearly 24 times, according to a new study that strengthens the suspected relationship between the illegal drug and heart disease.

Cocaine may raise the risk of heart attacks by boosting blood pressure and heart rate and increasing the contraction of the left ventricle or pumping chamber in the heart, according to Monday's issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

"Cocaine use, in addition to other adverse health effects, can acutely and immediately trigger the onset of heart attacks with a great increase in risk," said researcher Dr. Murray Mittleman of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "This is a risk that just may not be worth taking."

The study, conducted over seven years, was based on interviews with nearly 4,000 patients from across the United States who suffered heart attacks. Thirty-eight patients said they used cocaine in the year before their heart attack; nine of them said they used the drug within an hour of their heart attack.

Patients who had heart attacks associated with cocaine were, on average, 44 years old, much younger than the average heart attack patient. Of these patients, 76 percent had no prior symptoms of heart disease.

"The fact that these patients are an average 17 years younger is an indication that cocaine is being associated with heart attacks that likely otherwise would not have occurred," Mittleman said.

The researchers say that because most people don't readily admit drug use, the self-reporting method used in the study may not show the true extent of the heart attack risk.

Surveys indicate 30 million Americans have used cocaine at least once and 5 million are regular users.

CNN Medical Correspondent Eileen O'Connor contributed to this report.

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Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association
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