Cerebrovascular complications of the use of the "crack" form of alkaloidal cocaine

N Engl J Med. 1990 Sep 13;323(11):699-704. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199009133231102.


Background and methods: The use of cocaine, especially one of its alkaloidal forms ("crack"), has been increasingly associated with cerebrovascular disease. To clarify the clinical, radiologic, and pathological features of the events associated with cocaine use, we identified 28 patients at four medical centers who had stroke temporally related to the use of alkaloidal cocaine (during or within 72 hours of use).

Results: The 28 patients had the following types of cerebrovascular event: cerebral infarction (n = 18 [2 hemorrhagic; 1 fatal]) in the areas supplied by the middle cerebral artery (n = 10), anterior cerebral artery (n = 3), posterior cerebral artery (n = 1), and vertebrobasilar arteries (n = 4); subarachnoid hemorrhage (n = 5); intraparenchymal hemorrhage (n = 4); and primary intraventricular hemorrhage (n = 1). Eighteen patients (64 percent) had acute neurologic symptoms immediately or within one hour of using cocaine. Fifteen patients (45 percent) with either occlusive or hemorrhagic strokes had sever headache as an early symptom. Vasculitis was not suggested by radiography in any patient, nor was it identified on pathological examination in one patient who died. All the patients were young (mean age, 34 years; range, 23 to 49) and had no other apparent, direct cause of stroke. Other risk factors for stroke among the patients included mild mitral-valve prolapse (n = 4), hypertension (n = 4), cigarette smoking (n = 8), and regular alcohol use (n = 6).

Conclusions: There is a strong temporal association of the use of alkaloidal cocaine with both ischemic and hemorrhagic cerebrovascular events. Cocaine-related stroke probably has many causes. A thorough history focusing on the use of cocaine and toxicologic screening of urine and serum should be part of the evaluation of any young patient with a stroke.

Publication types

  • Comment
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / chemically induced
  • Cerebral Infarction / chemically induced
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Cocaine / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / chemically induced
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / chemically induced
  • Time Factors


  • Cocaine