Cocaine Effects On The Heart

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 28, 2020

Cocaine is an illegal drug that affects the body by overstimulating the central nervous system. While it causes a wide range of severe side effects, one of the most dangerous is the damage that it does to the heart.

Cocaine Effects On The Heart

How Does Cocaine Affect The Heart?

The cocaine effects on the heart begin as soon as the drug hits the bloodstream. It immediately constricts the blood vessels and speeds up the heart rate.

This causes the heart to have to work harder so that a sufficient amount of blood can make its way to the brain and other organs of the body. The harder the heart works to pump blood, the higher the blood pressure will increase.

Other Side Effects Of Cocaine Use

Some of the other severe side effects of cocaine use include:

  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • gastrointestinal problems and bowel decay from a lack of oxygenated blood
  • paranoia
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • headaches
  • lung damage
  • skin infections
  • runny nose
  • holes in the septum, throat, and mouth
  • tooth decay
  • nose deformities
  • new or worsening mental illnesses
  • impaired long-term and short-term memory
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • trouble concentrating
  • constant cravings for cocaine
  • seizures

Short-Term Effects On The Heart

The severity of short-term cocaine effects on the heart depends on the amount of the substance that a person takes. Even small doses of the drug can increase a person’s blood pressure and heart rate enough for them to start having chest pains.

For this reason, cocaine use was once considered the top cause of drug-related visits to the emergency room. This has recently changed to opiates because of the current painkiller epidemic affecting the United States, though.

Long-Term Effects On The Heart

Some of the long-term effects of cocaine on the heart occur because the drug causes continuous damage to the arteries and blood vessels by increasing inflammation in these areas.

In a healthy person, inflammation is a normal immune system response to injuries or infections. Once the injury or illness is healed, the inflammation stops because it is no longer needed.

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Since cocaine use causes constant injuries to the arteries and blood vessels that the body doesn’t have a chance to recover from, the inflammation begins to start attacking any healthy tissue that is left instead.

This can result in a condition called “atherosclerosis,” which means that the arteries will harden and become lined with a thick layer of plaque that makes it difficult for blood to flow through them.

Usually, atherosclerosis only occurs in older people. But a person who has been using cocaine for a long time can develop it, even if they are much younger.

In fact, one study conducted on people who used cocaine on a long-term basis showed that 28 percent of those who had a heart attack also had atherosclerosis. This condition contributed to their sudden death.

Dangers Of Long-Term Cocaine Abuse On The Heart

Many people falsely assume that only those who have been using cocaine for a long time can have heart damage or other health problems from it. Yet a person can die from cocaine the very first time they use it, especially if they have any serious health issues that affect their cardiovascular system.

Once cocaine hits the bloodstream, the drug speeds up the heart and constricts the veins and arteries so quickly that the heart becomes starved of oxygenated blood. This triggers a fatal heart attack because the body doesn’t have time to prepare itself for the sudden stress.

Inflammation Of Heart Muscles

The cocaine effects on heart muscles cause inflammation in them, which makes them harder and less flexible over time. This is problematic because it limits the heart’s ability to expand and contract so that it can pump blood efficiently.

If it can’t pump blood, a circulatory disorder can develop, which can lead to dangerous blood clots in the limbs. A life-threatening condition called “heart failure” is also possible. Signs of heart failure include swelling of the feet, legs, and abdomen, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fluid in the lungs.

Changes To Heartbeat (Arrhythmia)

Cocaine effects on heart electrical signals can increase the risk of an arrhythmia developing. An arrhythmia is serious because it can interfere with the heart pumping the correct amount of blood to all the vital organs.

If the heart works too hard, atrial fibrillation, tachycardia (increased heart rate), or supraventricular tachycardia can occur. If the heart signal isn’t strong enough, bradycardia (decreased heart rate) could happen instead. All of these conditions increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Increased Risk Of Heart Attack

Cocaine use causes the left ventricle of the heart to thicken. It also increases the blood pressure and heart rate as it makes the arteries less flexible. These factors significantly increase the risk of a person of any age having a heart attack from using the drug.

It is important to mention that the symptoms of a heart attack from cocaine use are often different in men and women. While men get crushing chest pain, women might experience discomfort across their shoulder blades, fatigue, and squeezing or pressure in their heart that seems to come and go.

If cocaine has been used for a long-time, a person might not even realize that they are having a heart attack because some of the side effects of the drug are the same as the serious health condition. They may ignore any shortness of breath, sweating, or chest pain that they are having instead of going to a hospital for treatment.

Risk Of Aortic Dissection

When the heart is under severe stress from cocaine use, it is possible for the aorta that connects to it to tear open. This life-threatening condition is called an “aortic dissection.” It is dangerous because the aorta is the main artery of the body.

Its job is to distribute blood to all of the individual limbs. If it has a tear, the blood will leak out into the abdomen instead. Sometimes, an aortic dissection can be repaired with a wire mesh implant. However, it isn’t easy to control this form of internal bleeding because of the force of the blood pushing through it.

Get Help For Cocaine Abuse And Addiction

In sum, cocaine abuse and addiction is dangerous because it can cause a heart attack or stroke that could be fatal due to the way that cocaine increases the risk of aortic dissection, electrical signal malfunction, or inflammation in the arteries.

Since cocaine is highly addictive, it isn’t easy for a person to stop using it on their own. Luckily, there are numerous drug rehab centers across the United States that help with cocaine addiction.

Addicted individuals or their loved ones who want to know more about long-term effects of cocaine on the heart and how they can get treatment for their condition should be sure to give one of our treatment specialists a call today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 28, 2020
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