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Recreational cocaine use can raise risk of heart attack

There are a number of dangers associated with cocaine use. This infamous substance, which is used by many as a recreational drug, has a powerful effect on how the brain processes dopamine by stimulating the nervous system.

What many people do not realise is that, just as even a single cigarette can harm your health, even the occasional use of cocaine can be damaging.

The latest study shows that people who use cocaine are more likely to have a higher risk of suffering from heart disease than non-users.

Researchers at the University of Sydney looked at recreational users of the drug and found that even those who only dabbled occasionally had a greater likelihood of having cardiac abnormalities such as stiffer arteries, higher blood pressure and thicker cardiac muscle walls.

All of these are related to a higher risk of a heart attack and were found even among young people and those who considered themselves to use the drug only occasionally.

Cocaine the perfect heart attack drug

Lead researcher Dr Gemma Figtree, a cardiologist at the university, said in a statement: "We are repeatedly seeing young, otherwise fit individuals suffering massive heart attacks related to cocaine use. Despite being well-educated professionals, they have no knowledge of the health consequences of regularly using cocaine."  She even described cocaine as "the perfect heart attack drug".

Many people who use the drug would not consider themselves to be addicted. The Sydney study analysed a sample of participants who were on average in their mid-thirties and who reported using the drug at least once a month over the past year.

For many, it is a routine part of a night out on the town, being that it is a powerful stimulant which can make you feel instantly more alert, confident and even quite euphoric. Physically, it raises your heart rate and temperature.

However, experts note that these symptoms can be followed by long periods of feeling depressed and run down, a "comedown" or crash that can last for days. Not only is there this negative effect to deal with, the figures show that even the apparently upbeat side effects of cocaine bring their own risks, not only in medical terms but by making some users over-confident, aggressive and reckless. Of course, there is also the addictive aspect to worry about.

Cocaine increases heart wall thickness

The Sydney study showed that even monthly use can increase heart wall thickness by eight millimetres, higher systolic blood pressure and stiffening of the aortic arteries, even in users who are, to all appearances, healthy.

Thicker blood vessels are associated with higher blood pressure and require the heart to work harder, thus increasing the risk of heart attacks and even strokes.

At the moment, scientists are not sure why the drug has a stiffening effect on the blood vessels, and further research is needed on the subject.

It is the first study to look at the prevalence of hypertension and cardiovascular stiffness in users of the drug and is also unusual in that it looked at occasional, social users rather than cocaine addicts.

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