News from the American Heart Association
MONDAY, Aug. 1, 2022 (American Heart Association News) — A massive new study highlights the toll that methamphetamine use can take on heart health, suggesting that men, people with kidney disease and people with high blood pressure are especially at risk.
The findings, published Monday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, indicated that people who used methamphetamine faced an overall 32% increased risk of cardiovascular disease, with especially high risks of heart failure and pulmonary hypertension. The highest risks echoed those associated with alcohol abuse and cocaine use.
“Alcohol and cocaine are established risk factors for cardiovascular disease. What struck me was that methamphetamine use is just as risky for the heart,” said Dr. Nisha Parikh, lead author of the study and professor clinical medicine associate at the University of California San Francisco.
The public needs to know about these risks, he said. “And we need to provide more resources for people who use methamphetamine and want to stop.”
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Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant with long-lasting damaging effects throughout the body. It induces a feeling of euphoria that starts and fades quickly, encouraging users to binge and crash. The use of the drug is a growing global health crisis, affecting 27 million users worldwide.
Methamphetamine use has been associated with several cardiovascular diseases, including cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood to the body, and pulmonary hypertension, high blood pressure in the veins that lead from the heart to the lungs. A study published last year in the AHA journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes found that methamphetamine-related hospitalizations due to heart failure (when the heart doesn’t pump as well as it should) increased 585% over a decade in just California.
In the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 1% of the US population age 12 and older reported using methamphetamine in the past year, and 0.6% (about 1, 5 million people) reported having a methamphetamine use disorder.
In the new study, researchers analyzed the medical and drug use records of more than 20.2 million California residents ages 14 and older who received hospital care between 2005 and 2011, either as inpatients, in the department of emergencies or as surgical outpatients, and who had no history of cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. Of those, 66,199 were identified as methamphetamine users. Those who used the drug were younger (an average of 33 years, compared to 45 years of age for non-users) and were more likely to be male, smoke, abuse alcohol and suffer from anxiety or depression.
The patients were followed for at least three years to see if they experienced pulmonary hypertension, heart failure, stroke or heart attack. The researchers also compared the likelihood of experiencing these types of cardiovascular problems among people who used methamphetamine, alcohol and cocaine.
In addition to being about a third more likely than non-users to develop some form of cardiovascular disease overall, people who used methamphetamine were 53% more likely to develop heart failure and 42% more likely to develop hypertension pulmonary. Men who used methamphetamine were 73% more likely to have heart attacks than women who used the drug, but no more likely to have other cardiovascular problems than their female peers.
Among people who used methamphetamine, those with kidney disease or high blood pressure were more than twice as likely to develop cardiovascular problems as their peers who didn’t use the drug.
In contrast, people with alcohol use disorders increased their risk of cardiovascular disease by 28 percent compared to people who didn’t abuse alcohol, the study found. People who used cocaine had a 47% increased risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease compared to non-users.
“This paper is a major wake-up call to the clinical and cardiovascular disease community to pay attention to people who may be using or abusing methamphetamine,” said Dr. Chris Kevil, vice chancellor for research and professor of pathology at LSU Health Shreveport in Louisiana. “The degree of increased risk is really substantial.”
Kevil, who was not involved in the investigation, said the meth problem extends beyond California and the West Coast. “Here in the South, in Arkansas and Louisiana, we’ve also had an increase in methamphetamine use,” he said.
While researchers don’t fully understand how meth use increases the risk of heart problems, they do know that it creates a lot of stress on the body, Kevil said. “And sometimes we see methamphetamine abuse leave long-lasting impacts on the cardiovascular system.”
Methamphetamine use increases heart rate and blood pressure. It also leads to oxidative stress, inflammation and fibrosis of heart tissue, when scar tissue forms in the heart muscle, “all of which contribute to cardiovascular disease,” Kevil said. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the number of unstable oxygen-containing molecules in the body and the body’s ability to remove toxic substances from them.
In the new study, depression and anxiety were also more common among people who used methamphetamine. Chronic depression was found in 11.1% of people who used the drug compared to 1.9% of those who did not. The anxiety rate among people who used methamphetamine was 4.7% compared to 1.5% for those who did not use the drug.
Parikh said the study doesn’t show which came first, psychiatric conditions or drug use, but that future studies should explore the relationship. “I think it would be important to find out and address it.”
American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all opinions expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned by or owned by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email email@example.com.
By Laura Williamson, American Heart Association News