Ask an Expert: Drug use and stroke risk

Ask an Expert: Drug use and stroke risk

Q: Could past drug use put me at increased risk for a stroke?  I stopped using illegal drugs more than 10 years ago.

Answer from Dr. Ted Lowenkopf, medical director of Providence Stroke Center: The answer to your question depends largely on the type of illegal drugs used. Intravenous drug use can cause permanent damage to the heart’s lining and valves, and this damage significantly increases the incidence of blood clots and risk of stroke long after use of the drugs is discontinued.

People actively using cocaine and methamphetamine are clearly at heightened risk for stroke. These drugs can cause stroke by increasing blood pressure, narrowing blood vessels or causing inflammation of the blood vessels that leads to the formation of clots. Although the risk is particularly high among people who use these drugs heavily, any use can cause stroke. While the risk decreases when the drug use stops, researchers continue to study possible long-term effects on the cardiovascular system.

While the drugs I’ve noted are those most often mentioned in relation to stroke, it is important to remember that any drug, taken in excess, has the potential to affect blood circulation and cause serious organ damage.