Cocaine Health Risks: Vascular System
It is well known that cocaine speeds up the heart while it constricts blood vessels, leading to increased blood pressure. This pressure stresses the vascular system of the drug user, which can lead to injury and even death in some cases. While a vascular system is built to withstand pressure, the higher stresses of cocaine abuse can overwhelm these delicate structures.
There is a long list of vascular problems that can result from cocaine abuse. Some of the main types of injury are described below.
One of the most dangerous vascular effects of cocaine is aortic dissection. The aorta is the major artery carrying blood out of the heart and to the rest of the body. Due to the severe stresses on the heart and arteries after cocaine abuse, the aorta can develop a tear in one or more of the three layers of muscle that make up this artery. The tear can result in the separation of these three layers and the release of blood into these separations, or the tear can penetrate all three layers suddenly. Either type of dissection can result in death. Symptoms can appear suddenly and include sharp, stabbing or tearing pain in the chest that moves to the shoulder, arms, hips or legs.
A thrombosis is a blockage of an artery by a blood clot. If not treated, a thrombosis can be fatal. If the drug user survives, a thrombosis often results in the death of the tissue that lost its blood supply. Most common areas to suffer this blockage are the brain and the heart.
A coronary stenosis is a narrowing of one of the arteries of the heart. A stenosis can occur as a result of heart disease. However, among cocaine users, this problem tends to occur in males who are too young to be likely candidates for heart disease. Of course, when the coronary arteries narrow, there is more stress on the heart and less blood flow to the heart muscle itself.
An aneurysm is a ballooning of the wall of an artery. Aneurysms can occur anywhere, but are most common in the heart. A 2005 study published by the American Heart Association reported that cocaine users have a much greater chance of developing a coronary aneurysm. Even using the drug once a week is enough to cause aneurysms.
Coronary aneurysms seldom rupture, but aneurysms in other locations may. A coronary aneurysm can trigger a heart attack. An aneurysm in the brain can rupture and cause a stroke.
The sad thing is that a cocaine user never knows about all these life-threatening risks when he (or she) starts using the drug. Perhaps it just looks like he is going to have a good time with friends. But in fact, he may be taking his life in his hands each time he uses this drug.