Cocaine can cause a lethal rupture in the heart's main artery, a condition that should be suspected in people treated for chest pain. The condition called aortic dissection occurs when the lining of the aorta tears, exposing the inner layer. Cocaine use is not a commonly recognized risk factor for aortic dissection, which usually occurs in older people with high blood pressure. However, researchers noticed younger patients coming to the hospital with aortic dissection due to cocaine use.
Cocaine use causes an increase in stress hormones that can cause quick rise in BP. This may tear the lining of the vessel, which can allow blood to enter and rip it even further. The dissection may stop blood from reaching critical organs, or even cause the aorta to rupture.
Researchers reviewed hospital charts looking for cases of aortic dissection. They recorded information on cocaine use and coronary risk factors. Of the 38 cases found, 37 percent were related to cocaine use. Cocaine users were younger and all smoked cigarettes.
Hypertension had been diagnosed in 80% of the cocaine users, 70% had documented left ventricular hypertrophy, 60% were not taking their prescribed anti-hypertensive medication and 29% of the cocaine users died in the hospital, which was almost twice the death rate of the non-cocaine users.