PhotoIt's pretty widely known that using cocaine increases the risk of heart disease but Spanish researchers have now put some numbers behind that assumption. They found that for those in the 19-49 age bracket, the risk of sudden cardiovascular death is quadrupled among cocaine users.

In fact, for those under 50, cocaine becomes the main risk factor for sudden cardiac death, according to researchers at the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country, the Basque Institute of Forensic Medicine, and CIBERSAM.

The study, published in Addiction, is the first to be conducted using forensic samples taken from deceased individuals.

Researchers analyzed the cases of 437 people who died of sudden cardiovascular death and whose death was not due to disease or acute intoxication. To conduct the research, they also studied the cases of another 126 people who died of different causes.

Those sudied had died either instantly or within six hours of being stricken and all were beneath the age of 50, thus reducing the influence of age-related cardiovascular disease.

Research data

In all the cases, a full post-mortem examination plus toxicological and histopathological studies were conducted, and the clinical data and circumstances of the deaths were reviewed. Gas chromatography and liquid spectrometry were conducted to detect therapeutic drugs, drug abuse and ethanol. A time link was established between recent cocaine consumption and death, and the researchers took into consideration obesity, hypertension, diabetes and smoking in relation to other risk values for suffering a heart attack.

The analysis of the data shows that cocaine consumption multiplies the risk of dying by four compared with non-consumption. Specifically, the percentage of cases among the deceased owing to sudden death in which drug consumption was detected was nearly 10%, while among the people who had died of other causes it was 2%. In comparison with the estimated data in the general population, the proportion of people who used cocaine recently was between 13 and 58 times higher in the cases of sudden death than in the general population. 

Cocaine increases heart rate and blood pressure and also diminishes coronary blood flow, is related to the formation of clots, and cardiac arrhythmias, it can increase ventricular irritability and lower the fibrillation threshold, among other effects. 

The doctors Benito Morentin, Javier Ballesteros, Luis F. Callado and J. Javier Meana were the primary researchers. 

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