Thursday, October 2, 2014
Strokes in Young People
Drug use as a risk factor.
(First published 12-09-12)
When a stroke happens to anyone under the age of 55, a major suspect is drugs, specifically the stimulants—methamphetamine and cocaine. In the journal Stroke, researcher Brett Kissela and his associates provided additional evidence to support that unpleasant truth.
“We know that even with vascular risk factors that are prevalent—smoking, high blood pressure—most people still don’t have a stroke until they’re older,” Kissela said in a Reuters article. “When a young person has a stroke, it is probably much more likely that the cause of their stroke is something other than traditional risk factors.”
The modest study involved residents of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky who had suffered a stroke before turning 55. The researchers found that the rate of substance abuse among the stroke group was higher than in control populations. This doesn’t prove that drug or alcohol addiction lead directly to strokes, since drug users often have additional risk factors for stroke and heart disease, particularly if they are also cigarette smokers.
But the suspected link between strokes and young drug abusers is by no means a new one. In 2007, scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas published a massive survey of more than 3 million records of Texas hospital patients from 2000 through 2003 in the Archives of General Psychiatry. This gigantic database gave the researchers access to the records of virtually every stroke patient in the state of Texas. The researchers found that strokes associated with amphetamine use among young people 18 to 44 years of age represented a rapidly growing category. In fact, the Texas group found that “the rate of strokes among amphetamine abusers was increasing faster than the rate of strokes among abusers of any other drug.”
Curiously, amphetamine and cocaine are responsible for different kinds of strokes. An ischemic stroke, the classic blood clot, is caused by a blockage of blood vessels to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes result from bleeding caused by the rupture of a weakened blood vessel. In general, hemorrhagic strokes are more severe and more likely to cause death. And what the researchers found was more bad news for speed freaks: “Amphetamine abuse was strongly associated with hemorrhagic stroke, but not with ischemic stroke.” Cocaine abuse was more robustly linked to ischemic strokes. So, it’s not surprising that when it comes to drug and fatal strokes, the clear winner was amphetamine. It’s not entirely clear what causes the difference, but the investigators pointed out that meth injections in lab animals can cause microhemorrhaging, heart attacks, fragmentation of capillary beds, and something called “poor vascular filling.” For cocaine, the culprits are vasoconstriction and disrupted regulation of blood pressure.
More than 14 percent of strokes in hospitals “were accounted for by abuse of drugs,” the researchers wrote. The data showed that for patients with hemorrhagic strokes, “only amphetamine abuse, coagulation defects, and hypertension were strong independent predictors of in-hospital death.”
So what can we conclude? Either the number of speed users in these communities is increasing, or the existing speed communities are using the drug more intensely. Since the rate of increase of speed use was relatively modest during the study years, the researchers concluded that “increased rate in our hospital population is because of the increased intensity of methamphetamine use.” Meaning higher dosages, stronger meth, and more needles.
Sadly, much of this has been known since it least 1990. In that year, research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, based on a study of stroke victims at San Francisco General Hospital, concluded that “the possibility of serious and sometimes fatal cerebrovascular accidents in people taking potent stimulants and using the intravenous route of administration is not as widely known as it needs to be.”
About 800,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke each year, according to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strokes are considered America’s leading cause of serious long-term disability.
de los Rios F., Kleindorfer D.O., Khoury J., Broderick J.P., Moomaw C.J., Adeoye O., Flaherty M.L., Khatri P., Woo D. & Alwell K.; (2012). Trends in Substance Abuse Preceding Stroke Among Young Adults: A Population-Based Study, Stroke, 43 (12) 3179-3183. DOI: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.112.667808