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Heart Problems Caused By Cocaine Use And Abuse

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 24, 2019

Each drug carries its own risk of health problems, but few have as many far-reaching effects on an individual’s heart and health than cocaine. Cocaine is one of the most immediately dangerous drugs and can cause a variety of heart problems that are often lethal. Understanding these problems can help keep individuals and their loved ones away from this substance.

Why Cocaine Causes Heart Problems

There are many reasons that cocaine causes heart problems. First of all, it causes your heart to race, which can damage its muscles. But it also causes damage to your arteries and veins, often to the smallest veins around your heart. It can cause them to constrict and even cause irregular or uneven blood flow.

Even worse, it can cause stiffness in these blood-carrying vessels that can stimulate the stiffness caused by high cholesterol and high-fat diet. Though this stiffness is often temporary, it can be severe enough to trigger a variety of serious and even deadly heart problems. And these problems may occur even if you rarely, if ever, use cocaine or if you’re just trying it for the first time.

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Heart Damage Caused By Cocaine Is Often Hard To Detect

Beyond its effect on your heart and blood vessels, cocaine is problematic because the damage it causes can be so hard to detect. A study performed by Dr. Varun Kamar at Mount Sinai Hospital decided to check the smallest vessels in the bodies of two groups of people who came there with chest pain: those who did cocaine and those who did not.

The results were clear: the small vessels were heavily impacted by cocaine use. They were over-constricted, which caused blood flow that was too quick and which could easily lead to problems like pain in the chest and even heart attack. The major problem is that this damage is not easily detected or checked for in most incidents of chest pain, only in the larger arteries.

Often, this results in people being released from treatment because doctors couldn’t find any problems in the most obvious areas. So users continue to put their lives at risk by using cocaine and damaging these small blood vessels. Sadly, this only increases the risk of developing a variety of heart concerns.

Cocaine Will Raise Your Blood Pressure

The stimulating effect of cocaine will immediately increase your blood pressure to dangerous levels through the previously mentioned over-constriction. Though this increased blood pressure will only be temporary, it can still lead to a variety of concerns, including, but not limited to:

  • Serious damage to the heart
  • Damage to the kidney
  • Memory loss
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Vision problems
  • Artery disease

What’s worse is that a sudden increase in blood pressure can actually trigger a wider array of heart problems, including heart attacks and other serious concerns. This is especially true if your blood pressure is already fairly high. For example, if your pressure is higher than 140/90, even using cocaine one time can cause a serious problem.

Abnormal Heart Rhythms Will Occur

The immediate impact that cocaine produces on your heart is likely to interfere with its natural rhythm. As a result, you may suffer from what is known as arrhythmia. Arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat that causes your heart to “flutter” or “skip a beat.”
It’s actually not uncommon to temporarily suffer from an arrhythmia naturally and it can usually be corrected. Unfortunately, arrhythmia can also be incredibly serious and can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Premature beats
  • Fatigue and dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Pounding heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart attacks

The likelihood of serious arrhythmia rises with cocaine use because cocaine is so stimulating. The natural correction common in most arrhythmia won’t occur and your heart will likely struggle to beat properly. This can lead to even more severe problems, like the ones below.

Heart Attacks Are Common, Even In The Young

Cocaine is often called “the perfect heart attack” drug because it so perfectly prepares your body for this serious condition. And this is true even in people who are otherwise healthy, such as teen athletes. For example, one study found that chronic non-users, no matter how healthily they lived their lives, suffered from a variety of problems:

  • 30 percent to 35 percent increase in aortic stiffening
  • Noticeably high blood pressure (above 140/90)
  • 18 percent thicker wall in the left ventricle

Those kinds of increase were noted up and down the board, from users in the prime of their lives to middle-aged people. Unfortunately, this creates the perfect environment for a sudden heart attack, a problem that may be more of serious risk for younger and athletic people.

Just think about a chronic cocaine user suffering from the above-mentioned problems suiting up to go for a jog. For a bit of energy, they snort a few lines of coke and feel pumped to get going. Sadly, their heart is also pumped up and ready to burst. And it does right in the middle of their jog, tragically ending a life much too soon.

Deadly Strokes Are Also A Potential

Cocaine-induced strokes are becoming a major problem in young people. As mentioned above, cocaine seriously impacts the blood vessels in your body, and when it reaches your brain, it can cause these vessels to constrict. This constriction can lead to heart failure, bizarre and violent behaviors and, in a worst-case scenario, strokes.

This potential was confirmed by a study presented at The International Stroke Conference when data from 1,000 stroke victims (15-49) found that cocaine use was not only prominent in the younger victims, but a leading cause. Using cocaine made a person 6-7 times more likely to suffer from a stroke within the 24 hours after the use.

This danger increased if the people also exhibited other high-risk stroke symptoms, including:

  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Sedentary lifestyle

While these problems will increase the danger of a stroke, they can occur in those without them. They can be caused by snorting even one line of cocaine or even using it one time in your whole life. As strokes can easily cause life-changing paralysis, it’s simply not worth the risk.

Come To Us For Help

Don’t let cocaine use turn you into a heart disease statistic. Stop using right away or never even try. If you have any more questions about cocaine use or need help quitting, please contact us at today. We can help.

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