Cardiac complications of cocaine abuse

Simon Chakko, Robert J. Myerburg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Cardiac complications of cocaine abuse and a rational approach to evaluating and managing them are described. Cardiac abnormalities reported among asymptomatic cocaine abusers include echocardiographic left ventricular hypertrophy and segmental wall motion abnormalities. Electrocardiogram may reveal increased QRS voltage. ST-T changes, and pathologic Q waves. Episodes of ST elevation may be seen during Holter monitoring. The management of cocaine-abusing patients who present to an emergency room with acute chest pain is controversial because the two reported studies yielded conflicting results regarding the incidence of myocardial infarction (MI). Even in the absence of infarction, electrocardiographic abnormalities are common among these patients, which complicates the decision-making regarding hospitalization. Pathophysiology of cocaine-related MI is discussed. Distinct clinical features of cocaine-related MI make it clear that the association between the two is not just temporal. However, considering the number of persons abusing cocaine, it is a rarity. Beta-adrenergic blockers should be avoided in the treatment of cocaine-induced myocardial ischemia which is best treated with nitrates and calcium-channel blockers. Reports of cocaine- induced myocarditis and cardiomyopathy are reviewed. Experimental studies and clinical case reports suggest that cocaine may cause lethal arrhythmias. Cocaine prolongs repolarization by a depressant effect on potassium current and may generate early after depolarizations. It is possible that cocaine- associated arrhythmias are secondary to vasospasm-related ischemia and reperfusion as well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-72
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Cardiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1995


  • cocaine
  • echocardiography
  • electrocardiography
  • myocardial infarction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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