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Amphetamine Use Increases Risk of Aortic Tears in Young Adults

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UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers examined medical records from nearly 31 million people between 18 and 49 years old hospitalized from 1995 to 2007 and found that amphetamine abuse was associated with a threefold increase in the odds of aortic dissection.

“Aortic dissection in young people is rare, but it frequently can lead to death,” said Dr. Arthur Westover, assistant professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and the study’s lead author. “Doctors should screen young adults with aortic dissection for amphetamine abuse in searching for a potential cause.”

Individual case reports have suggested a link between aortic dissection and amphetamine (meth) abuse, but this is believed to be the first epidemiological study of a large group of people on the issue, Dr. Westover said.

The aorta stems from the heart and is the largest artery in the body. Dissection occurs when a tear develops in the inner layer of the aorta, allowing blood to separate, or dissect. The blood can eventually cause a rupture in the aortic wall, often resulting in death.

Amphetamine, also known as ‘speed,’ is a synthetic stimulant used to suppress the appetite, control weight, and treat medical conditions like narcolepsy and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is sometimes also used recreationally and for performance enhancement, but these uses are illegal in most countries. Common


test-taking aid, and are also used by many people looking to stay awake and/or improve performance. Amphetamine works by increasing energy levels, concentration, and motivation, thus allowing students to study for an extended period of time.

Amphetamines Bad for the Heart

Amphetamines act on the body in similar ways as cocaine, which also is associated with adverse effects on the heart. Medically, amphetamines are known to increase blood pressure, and hypertension is a known trigger of aortic dissection.

Researchers note that the abuse of amphetamines – including methamphetamines, or “meth” – significantly increased among hospitalized young adults from 1995 to 2007.
Researchers also analyzed medical data for more than 49 million people 50 years or older from the same time period.

“We found that the frequency of aortic dissection is increasing in young adults but not older adults,” Dr. Westover said. “It is not yet clear why.”

Researchers noted that in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington state, the percentage of aortic dissection cases linked to amphetamine abuse among young adults during the study period was three times greater than the national figure.

“This illustrates that in areas where amphetamine abuse is more common, there are greater public health consequences,” Dr. Westover said.

Dr. Westover’s research previously has linked amphetamine abuse to heart attack and stroke.

“This study adds to our growing understanding of the cardiovascular risks associated with abuse of amphetamines,” said Dr. Paul Nakonezny, associate professor of clinical sciences and psychiatry at UT Southwestern and an author on the paper.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Last modified on Thursday, 12 January 2012 12:16
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