TUESDAY, Nov. 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Cocaine users can have abnormal blood flow in the heart that is hard to detect, which can put them at increased risk for heart disease or death, a new study warns.
Researchers in Chicago compared heart imaging test results from 202 cocaine users and 210 people who didn't use the illegal drug.
Those using cocaine showed subtle abnormalities in blood flow through the heart's smallest blood vessels, which were considered significant when compared to non-cocaine users with diabetes, high blood pressure and a family history of heart disease.
However, these abnormalities may not be detected on a standard heart imaging test if a cocaine user complains of chest pain or shortness of breath, the researchers noted, which puts users at risk for heart complications or death.
The study was scheduled to be presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association (AHA) annual meeting in Chicago.
"Cocaine use is, unfortunately, very common, and we see many emergency room admissions because patients experience chest pain following cocaine use," lead author Dr. Varun Kumar, an internist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago, said in an AHA news release.
"But there can be a discrepancy because the patient has symptoms, but their angiograms appear normal," he added.
He also suggested that cocaine users may be candidates for standard heart disease prevention treatments like aspirin and cholesterol-lowering drugs,.
"We need more research on this, but there's some evidence to suggest cocaine itself can stimulate clot formation and may contribute to atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease," he said. "This patient population may be small, but cocaine use is prevalent and we don't want these patients to fall through the cracks."
Findings presented at scientific meetings should be considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about cocaine.