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cocaine and the heart

Cocaine And The Heart, Dangers, Effects, Long-Term Problems, Hypertention, Arrhythmias, Cardiac Arrest & Addiction Treatment

How Does Cocaine Affect the Heart?

Cocaine and the heart: According to a 2019 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, cocaine activates the body’s nervous system, which is the system of connections between the brain and the body’s organs. 

According to the study, cocaine stimulates hormones and chemical messengers in the brain that respond to stress and pleasure — without then gradually returning those chemicals to their normal state. One of these chemicals, called norepinephrine, is both a hormone and a messenger that affects heart rate and blood pressure, according to the Endocrine Society.

This can result in dramatic increases in heart rate and blood pressure, which can result in heart attacks. According to the International Journal of Molecular Sciences study, the immediate effects of cocaine include:

cocaine and the heart
If someone suffers a heart attack during cocaine abuse, that can result in permanent damage to the heart.
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Higher heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Coronary spasms, which are a tightening of the heart’s muscles

While these effects subside as cocaine leaves the body, there is some risk of long-term heart damage, especially with regular cocaine use. If someone suffers a heart attack during cocaine abuse, that can result in permanent damage to the heart. Long-term use has been associated with structural changes to the heart that can result in or worsen heart failure.

Cocaine And The Heart: Hypertension And Cocaine

According to a 2019 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, cocaine activates the body’s nervous system, which is the system of connections between the brain and the body’s organs. 

According to the study, cocaine stimulates hormones and chemical messengers in the brain that respond to stress and pleasure — without then gradually returning those chemicals to their normal state. One of these chemicals, called norepinephrine, is both a hormone and a messenger that affects heart rate and blood pressure, according to the Endocrine Society.

This can result in dramatic increases in heart rate and blood pressure, which can result in heart attacks. According to the International Journal of Molecular Sciences study, the immediate effects of cocaine on the heart include:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Higher heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Coronary spasms, which are a tightening of the heart’s muscles

Cocaine Effects On The Heart

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long-term effects of cocaine use include damage to all of the body’s organs. As for the heart, this can lead to:

  • Chest pains
  • Higher stroke risk
  • Weakening of the heart muscle
  • Injury to arteries

The good news is that there is a possibility of reversing this damage by treating cocaine addiction. According to a 2017 study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, 15 people who had used cocaine for about two decades were able to reduce plaque in their arteries by decreasing cocaine use or abstaining altogether.

Cocaine And The Heart: Cocaine Abuse And Heart Attack

Cocaine is a potent stimulant drug. It creates a variety of effects on the body. For example, it stimulates the central nervous system, causing a euphoric high. It also causes blood pressure and heart rate to increase, and it disrupts the heart’s electrical signals.

These effects on the heart and cardiovascular system increase a person’s risk for heart-related health issues, including a heart attack. Indeed, Australian researchers first used the phrase “the perfect heart-attack drug” in research they presented to the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in 2012.

The risks to your heart and cardiovascular system don’t only come after years of cocaine use; the effects of cocaine are so immediate on your body that you could experience a heart attack with your first dose.

Cocaine was the leading cause of drug abuse-related visits to emergency departments (ED) in 2009. (Opioids are the leading cause of drug-related ED visits more recently.) Most of these cocaine-related visits were due to cardiovascular complaints, such as chest pain and racing heart, according to a 2014 study.

cocaine and the heart
Cocaine’s effects on the heart and cardiovascular system increase a person’s risk for heart-related health issues, including a heart attack.

Cocaine And The Heart: Cocaine And Cardiac Arrest

The variety of effects on the heart and blood vessels from cocaine use increases the risk of a heart attack. Cocaine can cause increased blood pressure, stiff arteries, and thickened heart muscle walls, which can lead to a heart attack. A 2012 study of recreational cocaine abusers found that their hearts’ health showed significant impairment. They averaged 30 to 35 percent greater aortic stiffening and higher blood pressure than non-cocaine users.

They also had an 18 percent increase in thickness of their heart’s left ventricle. These factors are linked to a higher risk for heart attack or stroke. A 2014 study found that regular cocaine use was associated with an increased risk of premature death. However, this study didn’t link early deaths to cardiovascular-related death.

That being said, a 2018 study found that 4.7 percent of adults under age 50 had used cocaine at the time of their first heart attack. What’s more, cocaine and/or marijuana were present in 1 in 10 people who had heart attacks under age 50. The use of these drugs significantly increased an individual’s risk for cardiovascular-related death.

Cocaine-induced heart attacks are not just a risk for individuals who’ve used the drug for years. A first-time user can experience a cocaine-induced heart attack. Cocaine use quadruples sudden deathTrusted Source in users 15–49 years of age, due primarily to resulting cardiovascular disease.

Symptoms of cocaine-related heart problems

Cocaine use can cause immediate heart-related symptoms. These include increased heart rate, sweating, and palpitations. Chest pain can occur, too. This may lead individuals to seek treatment at a hospital or emergency room. The most significant damage to the heart, however, may be occurring silently. This lasting damage may be difficult to detect. A 2011 study found that medical tests rarely show damage to a cocaine user’s blood vessels or heart.

A cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR)test can detect the damage. CMRs performed in people who’ve used cocaine show excess fluid on the heart, muscle stiffening, thickening, and changes to the motion of the heart’s walls. Traditional exams may not show many of these symptoms. An electrocardiogram (ECG)can also detect silent damage in the hearts of people who’ve used cocaine. An ECG study on cocaine users found that the average resting heart rate is significantly lower in people who’ve used cocaine compared to people who’ve not used the drug.

Also, this same study found that an ECG shows cocaine users have more severe bradycardia or abnormally slow pumping. The severity of the condition is worse the longer a person uses cocaine.

Cocaine and Irregular Heartbeat

An irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, might be described as your “heart feeling weird” after using cocaine, or it may feel like your heart rate is speeding up or slowing down.

Cocaine changes the heart rhythm by blocking the flow of sodium and potassium ions in the heart muscles. The heart has specialized cells called pacemaker cells that maintain heart rhythm. They do this by passing a small electrical charge between cells. The charge tells the heart muscle cells when to beat.

Pacemaker cells pass their charges to each other by moving sodium and potassium ions into and out of their cell membranes. Cocaine blocks the flow of sodium cells through heart cell membranes. When sodium ions cannot pass through, the electrical charge cannot move from cell to cell. The heartbeat then becomes irregular.

Types of Arrhythmias Caused by Cocaine Abuse

The heart relies on precise electrical conduction to function and pump blood. Cocaine has been shown to produce several types of arrhythmias. Some examples include:

  • Asystole: The absence of a heartbeat: asystole is often fatal because it means the heart has completely stopped beating or cardiac arrest.
  • Bundle branch block: The electrical impulses that pace the heart are slowed down somewhere along their normal pathway. The electrical signals still generate a heart rhythm, but it might be slow or irregular. If the block is serious enough, it can progress to a full heart block and asystole. There might be no symptoms of heart block, or there might be an irregular heartbeat.
  • Sinus bradycardia: The heart beats too slowly. The heart normally beats between 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). Bradycardia is a heartbeat of less than 60 bpm.
  • Sinus tachycardia: The heart beats too fast. Tachycardia is when the heart rate is above 100 bpm.
  • Ventricular fibrillation: The heart quivers instead of producing a beat or pumping blood. Quivering happens because electric signals become disorganized and do not fire in a rhythmic pattern. Ventricular fibrillation usually results in cardiac arrest.

Symptoms of Arrhythmias

Arrhythmias are most likely to happen within the first few hours of taking cocaine. Arrhythmias are difficult to predict and can be deadly. If you suspect you or a loved one is experiencing an arrhythmia after using cocaine, call 911. Some symptoms of arrhythmias include:

  • Bradycardia, or slower than normal heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Tachycardia, or faster than normal heartbeat

Cocaine and blood pressure

Cocaine makes beta-blockers less effective at treating blood pressure or heart rate issues because it has the opposite effect as beta-blockers.

Cocaine makes beta-blockers less effective at treating blood pressure or heart rate issues because it has the opposite effect as beta-blockers. People prescribed beta-blockers for cardiovascular issues already have an increased risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or blood clot, and cocaine heightens the risk. Using cocaine defeats the heart-protective benefits of beta-blockers.

Some people may think that taking a beta-blocker will allow them to manage the symptoms of cocaine abuse or come down from a cocaine high. However, doing so is very dangerous and should not be done. There are significant risks associated with combining beta-blockers and cocaine.

When someone mixes cocaine and beta-blockers, the combination can lead to effects including:

cocaine and the heart
Treatment for Cocaine Addiction is focused on behavioral interventions that can be used to manage this substance dependence effectively.
  • Worsening constriction of blood vessels (vasospasm) in the heart. This effect leads to lower blood flow and oxygen, increasing the risk of tissue damage, heart attack, or death. Vasospasm may be silent (no noticeable side effects) or cause chest pain.
  • A paradoxical increase in blood pressure adds stress to the cardiovascular system and can be dangerous. High blood pressure symptoms are usually silent, but in extreme cases, they may result in difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion, or a severe headache.

If you are prescribed beta-blockers for a cardiovascular issue, remember that cocaine can damage the cardiovascular system. Beta-blockers are not effective at protecting the heart when cocaine is used.

If you use cocaine and are considering taking a beta-blocker on your own to counter cocaine symptoms, know that the combination causes a paradoxical increase in blood pressure and further constriction of blood vessels in the heart. This mixture is a potentially dangerous combination.  If you experience chest pain while using cocaine, do not self-treat but seek medical attention immediately.

Historically, the use of propranolol, a beta-blocker, was the first-line treatment when a person showed up at the hospital with cocaine-related cardiovascular issues. However, this practice was abandoned due to increased death rates noted in animal studies when cocaine and propranolol are mixed. Due to this finding, many healthcare providers began moving away from beta-blocker use in cocaine toxicity, though it remains a controversial subject.

Cocaine Addiction Treatment Near Me

The treatment for Cocaine Addiction must address the context of polydrug users to be effective. As stated by The National Institute on Drug Abuse in the piece ‘Cocaine Research Report. How is cocaine addiction treated?’, “In 2013, cocaine accounted for almost 6 percent of all admissions to drug abuse treatment programs. The majority of individuals (68 percent in 2013) who seek treatment for cocaine use smoke crack and are likely to be polydrug users, meaning they use more than one substance. 

Those who provide treatment for cocaine use should recognize that drug addiction is a complex disease involving changes in the brain as well as a wide range of social, familial, and other environmental factors; therefore, treatment of Cocaine Addiction must address this broad context as well as any other co-occurring mental disorders that require additional behavioral or pharmacological interventions”.

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction is focused on behavioral interventions that can be used to manage this substance dependence effectively. There are no medicines that work as substitutes for powder cocaine, crack cocaine and other stimulants of this kind. However, currently, there are some pharmacological advances.

Reclaim Your Life From Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up rehab treatment & detox center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from cocaine addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.

Sources

[1] Cheng, Yu-Ching; et al. “Cocaine use and risk of ischemic stroke in young adults.” Stroke, March 10, 2016.

[2] Hobbs, William E.; et al. “Cocaine and specific cocaine metabolites induce von Willebrand Factor release from endothelial cells in a tissue-specific manner.” Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, March 28, 2013.

[3] Khan, Aysha N.; et al. “Cocaine-induced splenic rupture.” Journal of Surgical Case Reports, March 2017.

[4] Kim, Sung Tae; Park, Taehwan. “Acute and Chronic Effects of Cocaine on Cardiovascular Health.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, January 29, 2019.

[5] Martin-Schild, Sheryl; et al. “Intracerebral hemorrhage in cocaine users.” Stroke, April 2010.