Regular cocaine users are about four times as likely as nonusers are to have an aneurysm in a coronary artery, according to a new study. The finding could explain in part why cocaine users have a heightened risk of heart attack, says cardiologist Timothy D. Henry of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation.
An aneurysm is an abnormal bulge in a blood vessel. Although coronary-artery aneurysms seldom rupture, they interfere with blood flow and might cause dangerous clots, Henry says.
He and his colleagues matched 112 cocaine users with 79 nonusers. All the participants, average age 44, were in a hospital because they had had a heart attack, chest pain, abnormal heart rhythm, or some other cardiac problem for which their doctors prescribed a test of coronary-blood flow. Most of the cocaine users, who also were more likely than nonusers to smoke, took the drug weekly.
The tests showed that more than 30 percent of the cocaine users had a coronary aneurysm, but only about 8 percent of the nonusers had one, the researchers report in the May 17 Circulation.
Henry says that in his medical practice apart from the current study, he has found people with coronary aneurysms who don’t currently use cocaine but did so years earlier. He conjectures that the condition could stem from cocaine’s constricting effect on blood vessels, which hikes blood pressure. Over time, these stresses might lead to the formation of coronary aneurysms, he says.