The cocaine-abused heart
Keller KB, Lemberg L.
Florida Atlantic University
Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing,
Boca Raton, Fla., USA.
Am J Crit Care. 2003 Nov; 12(6): 562-6.


Recreational use of cocaine dates back to the Incas in South America 5000 years ago. Cocaine is derived from the leaves of Erythroxylon coca, a shrub native to South America. In the late 1800s, Sigmund Freud popularized the drug in Europe. He used cocaine to treat depression, asthma, cachexia, and for overcoming morphine addiction. Also in this period cocaine rapidly gained acceptance in surgical procedures as a local anesthetic and vasoconstrictor. Cocaine reached the United States in the early 1900s, and its popularity led President Taft to declare it public enemy number one in 1910. Cocaine became popular again in the 1980s. Currently cocaine use is responsible for more ED visits then any of the other illicit drugs. Because most cocaine users are young, they are at a lower risk for coronary artery atherosclerotic disease. An estimated 25 million people between the ages of 26 and 34 years have used cocaine at least once, 20% were women and 30% men. Habitual users of cocaine are estimated to number 1.5 million. Most cocaine-induced chest pains do not progress to MI, and in fact many originate in the chest wall. The chest pains due to cocaine, however, are induced by myocardial ischemia, a result of vasospasm and not a thrombotic occlusion of a coronary artery that has a ruptured atheromatous plaque. ECG findings can be misleading in the diagnosis because the early repolarization syndrome, a normal variant, is a frequent finding in young African American men. Measurement of cardiac troponin levels is the most reliable diagnostic test. Percutaneous coronary intervention and angioplasty, rather than thrombolysis, is the treatment of choice because intense coronary vasospasm is the primary pathophysiology in cocaine-induced MI.

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