Cocaine Heart Attack
Perhaps the most serious side effect of cocaine is the chance of a cocaine heart attack. While cocaine users seek stimulant and euphoric effects from the drug, there are many effects on the body. As the amount taken to get high increases (either in quantity or frequency) the risks of unwanted side effects goes up.
Heart attack is usually thought of as an age related vulnerability, but even young people can induce a cocaine heart attack with cocaine use. To make matters worse, the drug itself causes a false confidence – a racing or laboring heart can easily be ignored in the midst of a binge.
A typical story about cocaine heart attack is related in an article from the UK. Tom Bertram discovered cocaine at 17 years old. After using for three months, he suffered a cocaine heart attack that left his heart damaged. He now has a pacemaker in place to prevent a relapse.
How does this happen? The risk for cocaine heart attack and stroke with cocaine use comes through several interacting mechanisms. The first is that cocaine is a vasoconstrictor. It narrows arteries, including those that feed the heart. It simultaneously acts as a stimulant and increases heart rate. The result is a heart that is trying to work harder, but cannot get as much oxygen as it needs to do so. Like any other muscle that is overworked and under-supplied, the heart cramps up. Unlike other muscles, unless rhythm and function is quickly restored, the patient dies.
Stroke risk is increased in a similar way although the increase in blood pressure (because of tightening arteries) also contributes. Cocaine has been shown to increase clotting factors – making an inappropriate and perhaps fatal clot more likely. If the clot occurs in the heart, a heart attack results. If it happens elsewhere, stroke is the result.
There is also evidence that even low levels of cocaine use over time makes addicts more susceptible to cocaine heart attack, even after they have stopped using. Unfortunately, just like in Tom’s case, the damage may be permanent.