Cocaine causes aneurysms by weakening the inner lining of blood vessels.
Cocaine increases blood pressure by tightening blood vessels (vasoconstriction). High blood pressure causes small tears on the inside of blood vessels. If these tears do not repair properly, the vessel walls become thin and have a hard time maintaining pressure. A weakening vessel may then bulge or balloon.
What Is an Aneurysm?
An aneurysm is a bulge or ballooning of an artery. Blood travels in both arteries and veins. Veins are vessels that are traveling to the heart, and arteries are traveling away from the heart. Since arteries receive oxygen from the heart and deliver it to the body, the force of the blood in an artery is very high. A break in an artery wall is a medical emergency.
Usually, the lining of the inside of arteries is very thick. When the lining thins, the pressure of the blood expands the area and form a bulge. An aneurysm has no symptoms unless it ruptures. People can go months or years with an aneurysm and not know it is there until it ruptures.
A ruptured aneurysm is a medical emergency. Most aneurysms happen in sensitive vessels like the one that leaves the heart (aorta) or ones in the brain. When one of these vessels bursts, it causes permanent damage or death.
Symptoms of an Aortic Aneurysm
The aorta is the large blood vessel that leads out of the heart. As it grows, some of these symptoms might start to worsen:
- Back pain
- Shortness of breath
- Tenderness or pain in the chest
Aneurysms can go undetected for years, so if a person suspects they have one they should ask for a diagnostic test from their primary care provider.
Symptoms of a Brain Aneurysm
Symptoms of an unruptured brain aneurysm are similar to a stroke. Both are medical emergencies. If the following symptoms are experienced, call 911 immediately:
- Double vision or changed vision
- Numbness of one side of the face
- One pupil dilated when the other is not
- Pain behind the eyes
Can an Aneurysm Be Treated?
An aneurysm can be treated if it is caught and diagnosed in time. Aneurysms can be diagnosed with imaging studies including:
- Angiogram: A thin and flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into a large artery and a surgeon threads it to where they think the aneurysm might be. The surgeon injects a dye through the catheter and uses X-rays to make the diagnosis. An angiogram is usually only used if someone is already going to have surgery. An angiogram procedure would never be used on its own to diagnose an aneurysm.
- Computerized tomography (CT): A CT is a specialized type of X-ray. Like an angiogram, a dye is injected into the blood vessels and helps to visualize if an aneurysm is present. CT scans are less invasive than angiograms.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRIs use a magnetic field to create a 3D image of the vessel to search for the presence of aneurysms.
An aneurysm from cocaine is treated the same as other aneurysms: surgically. The most common procedures are surgical clipping and endovascular coiling. A surgical clip is where the surgeon attached a small metal clip to stop blood flow to the aneurysm. This procedure is very invasive. More commonly, the surgeon uses a catheter to insert a metal coil into the aneurysm. This process seals off the aneurysm by stopping blood flow to the area.
How to Prevent an Aneurysm
The first step of prevention is to stop abusing cocaine, alcohol and other drugs. Stop using tobacco products, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Work on lowering your blood pressure and treat it if you need to. High blood pressure, regardless of it cocaine is involved, can lead to aneurysms.
Key Points: Cocaine and Aneurysms
Keep the following key points in mind when considering how cocaine relates to aneurysms:
- An aneurysm is a bulging blood vessel
- If an aneurysm bursts, it is a medical emergency
- Cocaine abuse raises blood pressure
- High blood pressure causes tears on the inside of blood vessels
- These tears can weaken blood vessels, leading to an aneurysm
- Stop cocaine abuse and adopt a healthy lifestyle to lower blood pressure and prevent aneurysms.
- Aneurysms can be deadly if they are not caught and treated.
If you or a loved one live with a cocaine addiction, reach out to The Recovery Village. Call to speak with a representative to learn how addiction treatment can address the cocaine addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders. The health risks are too high and you deserve a healthier future. Call today.
National Library of Medicine. “Aneurysms.” 2018. Accessed May 17, 2019. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Aortic Aneurysm | National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).” March 2012. Accessed May 17, 2019.
National Library of Medicine. “Aneurysms.” 2018. Accessed May 17, 2019.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Aortic Aneurysm | National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).” March 2012. Accessed May 17, 2019.