How Does Cocaine Affect The Heart?

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Cocaine is a highly addictive substance that originates from the coca plant. Cocaine is an illegal street drug, classified as a Schedule II substance by the Department Enforcement Administration. (1) Cocaine can cause irreversible damage to the heart and cardiovascular system. Even with such dangerous side effects, cocaine is used by approximately 5.2 million individuals over the age of 12. (2) Methods of ingestion in terms of cocaine use include smoking, inhaling through the nose, intravenous injections, and oral application. Over 1 million individuals have been diagnosed with a cocaine use disorder, meaning that they have difficulties controlling their cocaine use. (3) Those engaging in cocaine use may not be aware of the serious health effects that it can lead to. Those dependent on cocaine may ask themselves: how does cocaine affect the heart? This article explores the consequences of cocaine on the heart and cardiovascular system.

If you or someone you love engages in cocaine use despite the social, behavioral, cognitive, and physical impairments that it elicits, treatment may be necessary. Cocaine use disorder is treatable, and many individuals find success by attending a facility dedicated to substance use.  Guardian Recovery provides cocaine specific detoxification services to aid individuals in reaching sobriety. Therapeutic and aftercare planning services are available to help with maintaining sobriety and healthy cognitive patterns. Contact us today to learn more and to get started.

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Cardiovascular Dangers & Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine prolongs the activity of the sympathetic nervous system in the body, leading to cardiovascular problems. (4) Cocaine use can also cause stiffness in a crucial blood vessel in the heart, further leading to heart damage. (5)

Cardiovascular concerns associated with cocaine use include:

Cardiac Arrhythmia

Cardiac Arrhythmia occurs when an individual has an elevated, slow, or irregular heart rate. (6) Cocaine interferes with the normal functioning of the heart’s electrical system. (7) One of the side effects associated with cocaine use is elevated heart rate. Using cocaine can increase your chances of experiencing a cardiac arrhythmia.

Endocarditis

Compared to other substances, cocaine use has the highest risk of individuals developing endocarditis. (8) Endocarditis is known as an infection of the heart. (9) This can lead to the disruption of blood flow to the heart. Antibiotics are used to treat symptoms of endocarditis.

Symptoms of endocarditis include: (10)

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Tiredness
  • Sore muscles and joints
  • Cough
  • Swelling in the abdomen, feet, or legs
  • Anemia

Aortic Dissection

Aortic dissection occurs when there is a tear in the aorta. (11) The aorta is the body’s main artery. Arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart through the body. (12) Aortic dissection occurs in 5 to 30 individuals, for every 1 million people. (13) The symptoms associated with an aortic dissection are similar to that of a heart attack. The tear causes blood to rush through different layers of the aorta, making it a very deadly condition. Aortic dissection can cause death within the first 24 to 48 hours. (14) Cocaine use increases hypertension, which in turn increases the risk of developing aortic dissection. (15)

Signs and symptoms of aortic dissection include: (16)

  • Sudden chest pain
  • Severe stomach ache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulties with vision
  • Difficulties communicating through speech
  • Sudden paralysis
  • Leg pain and difficulties walking

Myocardial Infarction

A myocardial infarction is what most people know as a heart attack. An individual experiences a heart attack when blood flow to the heart is discontinued or diminished. (17) Blood flow is necessary for the heart to be able to function properly. Blood flow becomes blocked or reduced when the arteries become built up with plaque, cholesterol, or fat. A myocardial infarction can occur suddenly. Cocaine use can damage the heart and surrounding blood vessels, increasing your risk of experiencing a heart attack. A study, including 2,097 participants, found that cocaine use increased the risk of heart attack in both young and low risk individuals. (18) Individuals were also found to be more likely to die after experiencing a heart attack.

Signs and symptoms of myocardial infarction include: (19)

  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Pain in the jaw.
  • Pain in the neck.
  • Pain in the back.
  • Arm and/or shoulder discomfort or pain.
  • Difficulties breathing or shortness of breath.

A myocardial infarction is a serious medical condition, and medical attention should be seeked immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is when the blood force pushing your blood vessels is higher than normal, causing the heart to have to work harder. (20) Cocaine can lead to the elevation of blood pressure in the body. Those who are healthy, young, and only use cocaine sporadically, still have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. (21) Cocaine use can also cause stiffness in crucial blood vessels in the heart.

Chest Pain

Chest pain is the most common symptom related to cocaine use, resulting in approximately 57 percent seeking emergency hospital attention due to it. (22) Chest pain following cocaine use can be associated with the following medical conditions: (23)

  • Aortic dissection.
  • Coronary artery vasospasm.
  • Acute coronary syndrome.
  • Pulmonary hemorrhage.
  • Pneumothorax.
  • Pneumomediastinum.

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How Long Does Chest Pain Last From Cocaine?

Chest pain following cocaine use can last for different amounts of time, depending on the individual, medical history, and overall health. Typically, chest pain occurs approximately 3 hours after cocaine use. (24) Chest pain can last for 18 hours or more, depending on how much cocaine was ingested, and if multiple doses were consumed within a short period of time. (25)

Is Heart Damage From Cocaine Reversible?

Heart damage is often unavoidable with cocaine use. Luckily, heart damage from cocaine use is reversible. The heart can begin to heal and repair itself once an individual abstains from any further cocaine use. The heart should be monitored closely if heart-related issues arised from cocaine use. Though heart damage is reversible once an individual ceases their cocaine use, the risk of death is possible since the heart is such a crucial organ in the body.

Treatment For Heart-Related Issues From Cocaine

Heart disease and heart-related issues are very serious concerns. Treatment for heart-related issues due to cocaine use is imperative in order to repair the heart.

The following treatments can be used to treat heart issues related to cocaine use:

  • Beta blockers — These medications are used to treat conditions such as heart attack, high blood pressure, and other heart-related issues. (26) There has been some debate whether or not beta blockers should be used in those who engage in cocaine use, due to the increased risk for complications that it may cause. (27)

Fibrinolytic medication — This medication can dissolve the blood clots in individuals experiencing heart attacks or strokes. (28) Cocaine use can increase the chances of experiencing bleeding in the brain when taken with fibrinolytic. (29)

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Continuing cocaine use can make it difficult for doctors to be able to treat heart-related complications. Guardian Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for those experiencing cocaine use disorder. Contact us today to receive a free, no obligation insurance benefit check. Start your wellness journey today with Guardian Recovery.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Cocaine-2020_1.pdf
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-scope-cocaine-use-in-united-states
  3. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-scope-cocaine-use-in-united-states
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6387265/
  5. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089710#close
  6. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/arrhythmia/about-arrhythmia
  7. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/arrhythmia/about-arrhythmia
  8. https://pmj.bmj.com/content/81/959/568
  9. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/endocarditis/
  10. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-valve-problems-and-disease/heart-valve-problems-and-causes/heart-valves-and-infective-endocarditis
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441963/
  12. https://www.britannica.com/science/artery
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441963/
  14. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.799908
  15. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/01.CIR.105.13.1529
  16. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.799908
  17. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/about-heart-attacks
  18. https://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/journal-scans/2018/05/30/13/38/cocaine-and-marijuana-use-among-young-adults
  19. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack
  20. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure/what-is-high-blood-pressure
  21. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089710#close
  22. https://pmj.bmj.com/content/81/959/568
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4953242/
  24. https://www.news-medical.net/news/2008/03/19/36475.aspx
  25. https://www.news-medical.net/news/2008/03/19/36475.aspx
  26. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/173068#cautions
  27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7529122/
  28. https://www.britannica.com/science/fibrinolytic-drug
  29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6386426/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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