Cocaine produces a number of side effects on the heart due to its propensity to cause high blood pressure and cause the heart rate to fluctuate and become arrhythmic.
The effects of cocaine use on the heart can drastically increase risk factors for developing heart disease or experiencing cardiac arrest.
The long-term effects of cocaine use on the body, particularly on the heart and cardiovascular system, are quite serious. Cocaine use can lead to heart disease, stroke, and aneurysms.
How Cocaine Affects The Heart
This drug, once ingested, produces a euphoric and stimulating effect, since it causes neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (CNS) to release dopamine.
However, it also targets the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) by inhibiting the brain’s ability to reuptake norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating the heart rate.
Because norepinephrine reuptake is inhibited, cocaine causes the heart excess stress. This upsets natural heart rhythm, causes hypertension, and damages heart health.
In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in people who use cocaine, since it damages the heart muscle and the coronary arteries. This can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Aneurysms are another serious complication of cocaine use, which is a ballooning of blood vessels. If an aneurysm ruptures, it can cause internal bleeding and death.
In general, cocaine affects the heart in the following ways.
Hormone Level Disruption
Cocaine works by increasing the levels of certain hormones, including adrenaline and noradrenaline, in the body. This can cause the heart to race and can lead to high blood pressure.
In some cases, this can cause the heart to become so stressed that it stops beating altogether.
Cocaine also affects the levels of other hormones in the body, including serotonin and dopamine. These hormones are responsible for regulating mood and energy levels.
Aortic Valve Damage
One of the most serious effects of cocaine use is damage to the aortic valve, which can lead to aortic valve stenosis.
Aortic valve stenosis is a condition in which the aortic valve does not open fully, which can cause a number of problems, including chest pain, shortness of breath, and an irregular heartbeat.
Symptoms Of A Cocaine-Induced Heart Attack
Cocaine causes the heart to beat faster and harder, which can lead to an increased risk of a heart attack.
Symptoms of a cocaine-induced heart attack can include chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and limb numbness.
What Are The Long-Term Risks Of Cocaine Use On The Heart?
While cocaine use can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which can lead to a heart attack, the long-term effects of cocaine use on the heart can be even more damaging.
Prolonged and regular cocaine use can cause coronary artery disease, which is the narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This can lead to a heart attack or even death.
One of the most dangerous symptoms of long-term cocaine drug abuse is the development of cardiac arrhythmias, which are abnormal heart rhythms.
These upset rhythms, caused by failing electrical impulses in the cardiovascular system, can lead to heart attack or sudden death.
Coronary Artery Spasm
Coronary artery spasm is a condition in which the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle constrict or spasm. This is also called vasoconstriction.
This can cause a decrease in blood flow to the heart muscle, increase blood pressure by constricting the blood vessels, and may lead to a heart attack.
Inflammation Of The Heart Muscle (Myocarditis)
Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can be caused by a variety of things, including viruses, bacteria, autoimmune diseases, and certain medications.
However, cocaine use is one of the most common causes of this disease. Myocarditis can cause a variety of symptoms, including chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and fatigue.
In some cases, myocarditis can also lead to heart failure.
Heart Muscle Disease (Dilated Cardiomyopathy)
Dilated cardiomyopathy is caused by the damage that cocaine does to the heart muscle. Over time, the heart muscle weakens and becomes unable to pump blood effectively.
This can lead to heart failure and potentially death.
Heart Disease (Coronary Atherosclerosis)
When used chronically, both powdered cocaine and crack cocaine can damage the heart and lead to a condition called coronary atherosclerosis.
This condition is characterized by a buildup of plaque in the arteries that supply blood to the heart, which can damage vascular health.
The buildup of plaque can narrow the arteries and restrict blood flow to the heart muscle, leading to chest pain, heart attacks, and even death.
Tear In The Heart’s Large Blood Vessel (Aortic Dissection)
This condition, called an aortic dissection, is a tear in the heart’s main artery (aorta) and can lead to internal bleeding since blood rushes through the newly formed tear. This can be fatal.
Other Dangers Of Cocaine Addiction
The cardiovascular effects of cocaine are dangerous enough as it is, but unfortunately, the risks of abusing cocaine do not stop with heart problems.
Cocaine use, in addition to rapidly facilitating cardiovascular disease, can also cause a number of other physical and mental health side effects, diseases, and disorders.
Other risks of using cocaine drug use include:
- weight loss
- ventricular tachycardia
- coke ‘nose’
- myocardial infarction (heart attack) and death
Addiction Treatment Programs For Cocaine Abuse
Fortunately, there are a number of addiction treatment programs and services to combat the physical and mental health issues caused by cocaine abuse.
- long-term and short-term residential rehab
- inpatient and outpatient programs
- individual and group therapy
- family services
- telehealth services
- evidence-based, alternative, and holistic treatment alternatives
Find A Substance Use Treatment Center Today
If you or a loved one is seeking addiction treatment for a cocaine substance use disorder (SUD), give our helpline a call today to learn about rehabilitation centers near you.Article Sources
- American Heart Association
- American Heart Association
- National Library of Medicine (NLM)