Effects of Cocaine Use on the Heart
Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug that impacts various body systems and produces a wide range of side effects. The heart is one of the areas of the body it impacts most.
Cocaine use can lead to a wide range of potentially catastrophic heart problems, including the following life-threatening conditions:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Heart attack
By reducing blood flow to the heart muscle and increasing oxygen requirements, cocaine puts a tremendous amount of stress on the cardiovascular system.
The drug also reduces how much oxygen the cardiovascular system can deliver throughout the body.
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Cardiovascular Effects of Cocaine
When you ingest cocaine, it activates your body’s nervous system. The nervous system is a network of connections between the brain and the rest of the body’s organs.
When cocaine is consumed, it stimulates hormones and brain chemicals that respond to stress and pleasure. The problem is these chemicals don’t gradually return to their natural state.
One of those chemicals is norepinephrine — a hormone and messenger that impacts heart rate and blood pressure.
When the chemical level does not balance back out, your heart rate and blood pressure will stay elevated, which could lead to a cocaine-induced heart attack.
Some of the heart health issues that cocaine users can experience include:
1. Cocaine-Induced Heart Attack
It’s not necessarily the cocaine itself that increases the risk of a heart attack (myocardial infarction), but rather all of cocaine’s effects on the heart and blood vessels.
These effects are all risk factors for a heart attack, including:
- High blood pressure
- Thickened heart muscle walls
- Stiff arteries
In fact, one recent study found that nearly 5% of adults under the age of 50 had used cocaine at the time of their first cardiac arrest.
This type of heart attack is especially prevalent in young adults, with cocaine playing a role in about 25% of heart attacks in people under age 45.
What’s more, most cocaine-induced heart attacks happen within 60 minutes of using the substance.
It’s especially important to note that cocaine-induced heart attacks don’t only happen after years of regular cocaine use.
They can even happen to first-time cocaine users, with cocaine quadrupling the risk of sudden death in people between the ages of 15 and 49.
2. Coronary Artery Disease
Some studies show that cocaine may increase the risk of coronary artery disease, which happens when plaque builds up, causing the blood vessels to narrow.
Coronary artery disease is a risk factor for stroke and sudden death.
3. High Blood Pressure
Cocaine causes the heart to beat faster while also narrowing the body’s capillaries and blood vessels, resulting in an enhanced amount of stress on the vascular system.
When this happens, the heart must work harder to pump and move blood through the body. Subsequently, blood pressure spikes.
High blood pressure can lead to the following heart health problems:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Brain problems
- Kidney disease
- Vision loss
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4. Disturbances with Heart Rhythm
Cocaine affects the heart’s electrical system, disrupting the signals that communicate to ensure all parts of the heart pump synchronously.
When this does not happen because the signals are interrupted, an irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrhythmias can occur.
5. Hardened Arteries
Cocaine use can cause the arteries and capillaries to become hardened, a condition known as atherosclerosis. This condition is particularly dangerous because it’s hard to catch early since symptoms are not initially noticeable.
Before diagnosis, the condition has time to cause damage that can lead to heart disease. Studies show that 28% of sudden deaths from cocaine use had evidence of severe atherosclerosis-related coronary artery disease.
6. Heart Muscle Inflammation
Cocaine use can also cause an inflamed heart muscle in a condition known as myocarditis.
This condition can cause the muscle to harden as time goes on, making your heart pump blood less efficiently, which can lead to heart failure and other life-threatening heart conditions.
Cocaine’s effects on the blood vessels, blood flow, blood pressure, and blood clotting increase the risk of ischemic stroke by seven times.
8. Aortic Dissection
Aortic dissection refers to the sudden tearing of the aorta wall. This condition is often debilitatingly painful and can lead to death.
Cocaine use is a leading cause of this condition.
How Does a Heart Attack Happen?
Heart attacks happen when arteries that send blood and oxygen to the heart become blocked. Deposits of fat that contain cholesterol build up over time and form plaques in the arteries.
If a plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form. When the clot blocks the arteries, a heart attack takes place.
Symptoms of Cocaine-Related Heart Problems
While there are some symptoms associated with cocaine-related heart problems, like increased heart rate, sweating, chest pain, and palpitations, the most substantial heart damage from cocaine typically takes place quietly.
In fact, medical tests seldom show damage to the heart or blood vessels of cocaine users.
An electrocardiogram (ECG) is one way to detect silent damage in the hearts of cocaine users. ECG studies have found two interesting facts about ECGs and cocaine use:
- The average resting heart rate is notably lower in people who use cocaine compared to non-users
- People who use cocaine have more severe cases of bradycardia, or an abnormally slow pumping heart
Worried About Cocaine Affecting Your Heart? Get Help Today
If you’re struggling with cocaine abuse, Zinnia Health can help. Our team of compassionate and caring addiction counselors and healthcare professionals work one-on-one with our clients to come up with personalized treatment plans to ensure they get the recovery they deserve.
Contact us today to learn more. Recovery is possible with Zinnia Health.