Cocaine Use Increase Can Lead to Stroke Within 24 Hours

Researchers looking into leading risk factors for stroke in young people took a look at cocaine, not expecting it to be a large factor. But they were wrong, finding the drug to be the leading cause of stroke in young people.


Dr. Yu-Ching Cheng is a researcher from the V.A. Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. He is also the lead author of the study which strongly links cocaine use to ischemic stroke in young people. Dr. John Cole from the Maryland Stroke Center was co-author for the study.

The research team looked at medical information on nearly 1,000 stroke victims from the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area. All of the victims were young people between the ages of 15-49. The data gathered on these individuals was measured against information from a general population control group. Better than 25 percent of the individuals in both of the groups reported past cocaine use.

The researchers found that the most dangerous period for users was within the first 24 hours after having used cocaine. During the first day users faced a six to seven times greater risk of stroke. Dr. Cheng says rather than a direct likelihood of stroke, this demonstrates a strong connection between using cocaine and interrupted blood flow to the brain.

Dr. Cole says that when cocaine stimulates the central nervous system it also affects the function and tone of blood vessels in the heart and brain. The fact that cocaine amps up blood pressure means it is more likely that a blood clot will form in the heart. But that clot can very easily travel from there to the brain where it will block the flow of blood which, in turn, can cause ischemic stroke.

Researchers found that acute use of cocaine is a significantly greater risk factor for stroke than most of the other well-known risks, such as smoking tobacco, having high blood pressure or diabetes. This means that cocaine use is one of the greatest risks for ischemic stroke in young adults. The statistical relationship between cocaine use and stroke is so strong that Dr. Cheng advises hospital emergency rooms to screen all young stroke patients for drug use.