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Risk of Sudden Death Quadruples With Cocaine Consumption
The many dangers associated with cocaine use include an increased risk of sudden death. A new study from the University of the Basque Country, the Basque Institute of Forensic Medicine and the Biomedical Research Centre Network into Mental Health found that recent consumption of cocaine more than quadrupled the risk of sudden cardiac death for people between the ages of 19 and 49.
Sudden cardiac death is defined as any non-violent death that occurs unexpectedly and either instantaneously or shortly after the onset of symptoms. Some people who suffer sudden cardiac death have known pre-existing conditions, but many have no known existing illness prior to death.
The researchers also found that recent cocaine use can further increase the risk of cardiovascular-related death connected to smoking. Smoking on its own increases the risk of sudden cardiac death, and cocaine use doubles that already-heightened risk.
Subjects Examined for Cocaine Use, Other Risk Factors
The Basque study was the first to gather forensic data from recently deceased people who suffered sudden cardiac death. The sudden death study samples came from 437 people who died instantly or within six hours of exhibiting symptoms of illness. The researchers also examined forensic samples from 126 people who did not die sudden cardiac deaths.
The researchers also limited the study to subjects between the ages of 19 and 49 in order to eliminate older subjects who are much more prone to cardiovascular problems. They also recognized that cocaine use is comparatively uncommon among people 50 and older.
The researchers conducted toxicological, histopathological and full post-mortem examinations for each subject. They looked for recent history of prescription drug use, illegal drug use and alcohol consumption. The team also evaluated each subject for hypertension, diabetes, smoking and obesity, which are all major risk factors that could themselves account for sudden cardiac death. The researchers then adjusted for these risk factors when determining whether cocaine use on its own led to an increased risk of sudden death.
The final results showed that cocaine use appeared to account for the higher incidence of sudden cardiac death among those who had consumed this drug recently. The percentage of cocaine-using subjects whose death was a sudden cardiac event was almost 10 percent, while the percentage of non-cocaine-using subjects who died from a sudden cardiac event was only 2 percent. The other significant variable was sex: male subjects were 1.6 times more likely to suffer sudden cardiac death following recent cocaine use.
Cocaine Use Can Put Serious Strain on the Heart
This increase in the rate of sudden cardiac death among people who use cocaine may be the direct result of the extra strain that cocaine places on the cardiovascular system. The drug causes your heart rate to increase, your blood pressure to rise, your left ventricle to contract more forcefully and your heart to demand more oxygen.
Cocaine can also directly contribute to heart attacks by causing reduced blood flow to the heart, contributing to the formation of blood clots, contributing to cardiac arrhythmias and increasing ventricular irritability. Heart attacks occur when clots that form in blood vessels reach the heart itself.
The results of the study were published in November 2014 in the international journal Addiction.