Among the good reasons to get help for your cocaine use is the risk of having a stroke. Whether you are in your 20s or 50s, cocaine can trigger an ischemic stroke — the type caused when a vessel supplying your brain with blood is blocked. If you or someone you know is using cocaine, it’s crucial to know about the possibility of a cocaine stroke.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 692,000 people in the United States have this type of stroke each year. In the last two decades, hospitalization rates for ischemic strokes among men age 18 to 44 nearly doubled, according to the American Heart Association.
Can Cocaine Use Cause a Stroke?
Anton C. Bizzell, MD, president and CEO of The Bizzell Group consulting firm in Maryland, tells WebMD Connect to Care that more recent studies show a stronger correlation between stroke and cocaine, particularly crack cocaine. “We are also seeing more younger adults under age 35 have a stroke after using cocaine,” Bizzell says.
According to Abe Malkin, MD, medical director of Elite Home Detox in Los Angeles, researchers have found that cocaine triggers receptors in blood vessels that cause them to constrict. When they constrict, plaque can be dislodged from the blood vessel walls and sent to narrower blood vessels in the brain, where they form a clot, Malkin says.
According to Bizzell, cocaine can also increase heart rate and body temperature and decrease oxygen in the blood — conditions that make people more vulnerable to strokes.
Moreover, the stroke risk is often highest in the first few hours after cocaine use. According to Bizzell, that’s mostly because cocaine is a fast-acting drug, and blood vessel receptors are unprepared for its effects. However, Bizzell has not seen stroke risks rise with the amount of cocaine someone uses. This means that the risk of a cocaine stroke can happen with any amount used, so it’s important to seek treatment right away.
“It’s something I see in the addiction-recovery world quite often, specifically with people who relapse on cocaine as their bodies are not yet sensitized to cocaine use again,” Malkin says. “Of all the substance use I see, cocaine is probably the worst for you because it has both acute and long-term impacts associated with strokes.”
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