Amphetamine abuse tied to heart attack at young age

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Young adults who abuse amphetamines may be raising their risk of suffering a heart attack, a new study shows.

Texas researchers found that among more than 3 million 18- to 44-year- olds hospitalized in their state between 2000 and 2003, those who were abusing amphetamines were 61 percent more likely than non-users to be treated for a heart attack.

What’s more, the rate of amphetamine-linked heart attacks rose by 166 percent over the 4-year study period. That compared with a 4-percent rise in cocaine-related heart attacks, the researchers report in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“Most people aren’t surprised that methamphetamines and amphetamines are bad for your health,” lead researcher Dr. Arthur Westover said in a statement.

“But we are concerned because heart attacks in the young are rare and can be very debilitating or deadly,” added Westover, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Amphetamines stimulate the central nervous system and some are used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. But they are also frequently used illegally; one potent form of amphetamine, methamphetamine, is a growing problem in many U.S. cities.

Cases of heart attack in young people have been linked to amphetamine abuse before, but the current study appears to be the first large- scale look at the epidemiology of the problem.

Westover and his colleagues used a statewide database to examine information on more than 3.1 million 18- to 44-year-olds discharged from Texas hospitals between 2000 and 2003. Overall, 11,011 of these patients (0.35 percent) were treated for a heart attack.

The database also contained information on whether a patient had been diagnosed with any type of drug-abuse problem. The researchers found that patients with a diagnosis of amphetamine abuse or dependence were at increased risk of suffering a heart attack.

Amphetamines have various effects that could precipitate a heart attack, Westover and his colleagues point out. The drugs are well known to speed up heart rate and blood pressure, but they can also trigger spasms in the heart arteries and promote blood clotting.

In people who already have “plaque” deposits in their heart arteries, amphetamines may cause a plaque to rupture, which can then lead to a heart attack.

Besides the risk to individual amphetamine users, Westover said, “we’re also concerned that the number of amphetamine-related heart attacks could be increasing.”

“We’d rather raise the warning flag now than later,” he added. “Hopefully, we can decrease the number of people who suffer heart attacks as the result of amphetamine abuse.”

SOURCE: Drug and Alcohol Dependence, July 2008.

SOURCE: Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2008;