Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Docs urged to ask young heart patients about cocaine

Story Highlights

Cocaine use can result in symptoms that look like a heart attack

  • Cocaine-related chest pain is a heart attack in only 1 percent to 6 percent of patients

  • 2 common heart attack treatments can be dangerous to those using cocaine

  • Admitting illegal substance use confidential; info won't be reported to authorities

DALLAS , Texas (AP) -- Younger ER patients with heart attack symptoms should be asked whether they've recently used cocaine, which can cause similar chest pain, the American Heart Association warns doctors.

For these patients, honesty can be a matter of life or death: Some heart attack treatments can be deadly to someone using cocaine.

New guidelines published online Monday in the American Heart Association journal Circulation say that emergency room doctors need to be aware that symptoms of a heart attack in younger patients with no heart disease risk factors may be caused by cocaine use.

The drug can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, palpitations, dizziness, nausea and heavy sweating -- all symptoms of a heart attack.

"Not knowing what you are dealing with and giving the wrong therapies could mean death rather than benefit," said Dr. James Reiffel, professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital.

The number of cocaine-related users visiting ERs rose 47 percent from 1995 to 2002, increasing from 135,711 to 199,198, according to the government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (That's a tiny percentage of the more than 100 million patient visits to emergency rooms each year.)

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