UCSD Researchers Present Preliminary Study Results of Heart Failure
Associated with Crystal Methamphetamine Use

A preliminary study of hospitalized crystal methamphetamine users showed a significantly higher rate of cardiac dysfunction in these patients than in non-users, according to Ori Ben-Yehuda, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Director of the Coronary Care Unit at UCSD Medical Center. The physicians chose to examine the cardiac effects of crystal methamphetamine use because of the drug's pervasive use in San Diego County. These results were reported at the 52nd Annual Scientific Session of the American College of Cardiology, March 30-April 2 in Chicago, IL.

Ben-Yehuda and his colleagues, Nader Banki, M.D., Neil Siecke, M.D., and Thomas Waltman M.D., reviewed the records of 76 patients who tested positive for crystal methamphetamine and who also received a transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) within one year of testing positive. The team found that 64% of the 76 users showed normal heart function compared with 85% in an age-matched control group, while 28% of the crystal methamphetamine users exhibited moderate to severe left ventricular dysfunction, compared with only 7% in the control group. In both groups, 8% had mild dysfunction. Researchers controlled for HIV, additional illicit drugs and alcohol use.

In light of this significant increase in left ventricular dysfunction in crystal methamphetamine users, the UCSD team feels a larger prospective study to determine cardiac effects of crystal methamphetamine usage is in order.

Ben-Yehuda said he conducted the study because "there have been reports that use of crystal meth is associated with cardiac damage, but these had been anecdotal case reports. We decided to look at this systematically. Indeed we found that a high percentage of those that had evidence of being crystal meth users had abnormalities in their heart function, particularly bad contractility of their left ventricle."

The average age of the moderate to severe crystal methamphetamine users in the study was 41 to 43 years old, although the patients ranged from the teen years to 50 years old. Ben-Yehuda stated it is highly unusual for people in this age bracket to be exhibiting such grave levels of left ventricular dysfunction. "We believe it is a significant source of damage to the hearts particularly of young people. It can cause long-term damage and lead to congestive heart failure," he said.

Ben-Yehuda notes that although it is a preliminary study in a small patient population, it raises important public health implications and illuminates some of the widely used drug's dangers. He also noted that crystal methamphetamine and ephedra share a common chemical structure and may work in similar ways in the body, but further studies are needed in order to reach any definitive conclusions.

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News Media Contact:
Jeffree Itrich

UCSD Health Sciences Communications HealthBeat: http://health.ucsd.edu/news/