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What Does Cocaine Do to Your Heart? 10 Harmful Effects

Cocaine is one of the most commonly used illegal drugs and is derived from a coca plant, which grows in South America and produces a white powder from its dried leaves. Cocaine powder is heated with baking soda to create crack, broken into tiny rocks. Its name comes from the way it crackles when heated and smoked.

Crack cocaine is a kind of substance that produces a very rapid and potent high. It has a range of physiological effects. For instance, it activates the central nervous system, producing a euphoric high. Moreover, crack cocaine elevates heart rate and blood pressure while interfering with the heart’s electrical signals.

The duration of action varies between 15 minutes by intravenous or inhalation methods to three hours by gastrointestinal routes, with a half-life that ranges from six minutes after inhalation or intravenous injection to two to three hours after gastrointestinal intake.

An acute emergency from cocaine usage, like a heart attack, and long-term harm is possible impacts of what cocaine does to your heart. Heart disease is more likely to develop in regular cocaine users. Even temporary cocaine usage can increase the risk for those with heart health issues.

Cocaine users attribute improved energy levels and increased sociability to the stimulant side of the substance and seek the drug’s calming and focused benefits. Many people, however, disregard the cardiovascular effects of cocaine, which puts them at greater risk for coronary artery disease and other illnesses.

Read ahead to understand what cocaine does to your heart.

Effects of Cocaine on the Heart

There are several effects of cocaine on the heart. Cocaine damages the heart by throwing off the balance of a group of vital hormones known as catecholamines. Cocaine prevents the body from eliminating catecholamines as quickly as it would otherwise. As a result, the catecholamines stay in the body of the individual longer than usual, where they can harm the heart.

what does cocaine do to your heart
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These substances consist of your fight-or-flight reaction depending on the hormone norepinephrine, which raises your heart rate and blood pressure, the chemical serotonin affects the heart in several ways.

To answer the question of what cocaine does to your heart – in a nutshell, it causes clots, irregular heartbeat, increased heart rate and contractions, and dopamine, which increases heart rate and blood pressure by causing the heart to contract more forcefully. A person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, mental health issues, and other possibly chronic health illnesses can rise due to this inability to restore the hormonal balance.

The heart and blood vessels are harmed by cocaine, which increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Heart attack and stroke risk factors include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and other related risk factors.

What else does cocaine do to your heart? Many processes contribute to cocaine’s ability to cause cardiovascular disease. The main mechanisms by which cocaine users experience cardiovascular disease include its effects on the sympathetic nervous system, vasoconstriction, and hypertension. However, the medication’s cardiovascular effects can also be influenced by other variables.

The production of free radicals is one factor. Highly reactive chemicals known as free radicals can potentially harm tissues and cells. It has been demonstrated that cocaine increases the generation of free radicals, which causes oxidative stress and can harm the heart and other organs. Cocaine-induced cardiomyopathy is hypothesized to occur as a result of oxidative stress.

According to a 2018 study, cocaine users among young adults who would otherwise have minimal heart attack risk may also raise that risk. About 2,097 heart attack victims under 50 years old were included in the study.

Sudden cardiovascular death is among cocaine’s most harmful effects on the heart. When the heart stops beating suddenly, it usually happens due to an arrhythmia or another cardiac event. In particular, recent cocaine use is a significant risk factor for sudden cardiovascular death.

Cardiovascular Effects of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine has been termed “the perfect heart attack drug” by researchers. Experts have found that compared to non-users, cocaine users are more likely to experience heart attacks or strokes. Cocaine can harm a person’s heart long after they stop using the drug and while they are still using it.

So what does cocaine do to your heart? The long-term effects of cocaine usage include harm to all of the body’s organs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Some acute and chronic effects of cocaine include:

1. Damage to the structure of the heart

Cocaine users have the potential to cause major problems to their hearts, such as high blood pressure, or damage the physical components of the heart. Compared to non-users, young adults who are cocaine users have larger left ventricles, according to a short study from 2014. In the aorta, a significant heart-blood artery, they also had more stiffness.

2. Coronary Vasoconstriction

Vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels, is another effect of what does cocaine do to your heart. Nitric oxide, a chemical that causes vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels, is prevented by cocaine use, which has the effect described above.

Cocaine-induced coronary vasoconstriction increases the risk of ischemia or tissue damage brought on by insufficient blood supply by reducing blood flow to the heart, brain, and other organs.

3. Cardiac Arrhythmias

Cocaine users may experience an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, which may feel like the heart rate is increasing or decreasing. Cocaine alters heart rhythm by obstructing sodium and potassium ion flow in the heart muscles.

Pacemaker cells are specialized heart cells that keep the heart’s rhythm. A tiny electrical charge is transferred between cells to accomplish this. The charge instructs the heart’s muscular cells how frequently to beat. The passage of sodium cells across the membranes of the heart cells is blocked by cocaine. The electrical charge cannot transfer between cells if sodium ions cannot pass through. When this happens, the heartbeat becomes erratic.

Many difficult-to-treat cardiac arrhythmias, such as potentially lethal ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation, can be brought on by cocaine.

4. Cocaine Associated Chest Pain

Due to the chronic health repercussions of cocaine usage or when under its influence, cocaine users may be more prone to experience cocaine-associated chest pain. Cocaine-induced chest pain can cause aberrant cardiac rhythms, changes in the body’s need for oxygen, heart failure, spasms of the arteries surrounding the heart, and heart infections.

There are numerous reasons what cocaine does to your heart that can result in chest pain. After consuming cocaine, people who develop cocaine-associated chest pain should seek medical assistance immediately because it is a common sign of a heart attack.

Angina is another typical reason why cocaine users experience cocaine-associated chest pain. When the heart muscle does not get enough blood and oxygen, angina is a sort of chest pain that develops. Cocaine usage can restrict the arteries in the heart, reducing blood flow to the heart muscle and resulting in angina.

5. Tachycardia

Tachycardia, or an excessively high heart rate, is one of cocaine’s most prevalent cardiovascular side effects. The sympathetic nervous system is activated by cocaine, which causes the heart to beat more forcefully and rapidly. Particularly in people with heart disease, tachycardia is a major risk factor for cardiovascular problems and a serious result of what does cocaine do to your heart.

6. Heart Muscle Inflammation

Inflammation of the heart muscle is also known as myocarditis. The heart’s capacity to pump blood may be compromised by inflammation. Shortness of breath, high blood pressure, chest pain, and rapid or irregular heartbeats can all be symptoms of myocarditis.

The layers of your heart’s muscles can inflame due to cocaine consumption. Muscle stiffening may eventually result from inflammation. Your heart’s ability to pump blood may be reduced, and potentially fatal consequences like congestive heart failure may develop.

Dilations of the coronary arteries that resemble balloons are known as coronary artery aneurysms. About 30% of chronic cocaine users experience them, making them fairly prevalent among users. Heart attacks can be brought on by a coronary artery aneurysm as a consequence of what does cocaine do to your heart.

7. Vascular hardening

Atherosclerosis or capillary stiffness are both possible side effects of cocaine use. Atherosclerosis is a problem that does not manifest itself right away, but the short and long-term damage it causes can result in heart disease and other potentially fatal conditions.

In reality, significant coronary artery disease brought on by atherosclerosis was present in 28% of cocaine users who passed away quickly after using cocaine.

8. Aortic Dissection

In addition to all the other factors of what does cocaine do to your heart, aortic dissection is a disorder that can develop in cocaine users. It occurs when the inner layer of the body’s major artery becomes torn. The inner and middle layers of the aorta split due to blood rushing through the tear. Aortic dissection is frequently fatal if the blood penetrates the external aortic wall.

Aortic dissection symptoms frequently cause delays in diagnosis because they can be mistaken for those of other illnesses. The chance of survival, however, dramatically increases when an aortic dissection is identified early and treated quickly.

9. Blood Pressure

The force with which blood is pushed against your arteries when your heart beats is called blood pressure. There are two numbers used to record blood pressure. The force with which your heart pumps blood throughout your body is indicated by systolic blood pressure.

Diastolic pressure measures the blood vessels’ resistance to blood flow. A reading of 120/80 or less indicates normal blood pressure. Yet notably in cocaine users, as a result of what does cocaine do to your heart, blood pressure can rise to dangerously high levels.

what does cocaine do to your heart
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A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences claims that cocaine stimulates the neurological system, which connects the brain to the body’s organs. The study claims that cocaine boosts brain chemicals and hormones that react to stress and pleasure without gradually bringing those levels back to normal. One of these molecules, norepinephrine, functions as a hormone and a messenger and impacts blood pressure and heart rate.

Cardiac arrest may arise from sharp rises in blood pressure and heart rate due to this. Due to what does cocaine do to your heart, the blood arteries and capillaries of cocaine users tend to narrow, causing reduced blood flow. Your heart must work harder to pump blood throughout your body, which increases the stress or strain on your vascular system. This will cause your blood pressure to rise.

10. Cocaine-Induced Heart Attacks

One of the most significant results of what does cocaine do to your heart is a myocardial infarction or heart attack, as it is more frequently known and can be brought on in cocaine users. First, cocaine is known to cause blood capillaries and arteries to constrict. Moreover, cocaine causes a faster and harder heartbeat.

Blood vessels may develop plaque as a result of cocaine use. The combination of these consequences deprives the heart of essential oxygen, resulting in cardiac arrest. Alcohol consumption can worsen things: drinking while using cocaine can multiply the chance of a heart attack by 40.

Studies have shown that prolonged cocaine use causes heart and blood vessels to develop abnormalities, increasing the risk of cardiac arrest or stroke even in people who do not take the drug frequently. Cocaine usage has several consequences on the heart and blood vessels, raising the risk of heart failure. Other effects of what does cocaine do to your heart include increased blood pressure, inflexible arteries, and thicker heart muscle walls can result in cocaine-induced heart attacks.

Recreational cocaine users’ hearts’ health exhibited a considerable decline, according to a 2012 study; in comparison to non-cocaine users, they had blood pressure that was, on average, 30 to 35 percent higher and more aortic stiffness.

In addition to what does cocaine do to your heart, cocaine users can also experience blood clots by causing the blood vessels in the heart to spasm. These factors acting together can result in cocaine-induced heart attacks by clogging blood arteries.

Signs of Cardiovascular Issues Caused by Cocaine Addiction

The symptoms of what does cocaine do to your heart include palpitations, a faster heartbeat, and perspiration. Furthermore, chest pain can happen. Because of this, people might seek medical attention at a hospital or emergency department. Nevertheless, it might be challenging to identify this long-term harm. According to a 2011 study, medical exams for cocaine users seldom reveal heart or blood vessel damage.

The damage can be found via a cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) examination. Cocaine users have thickened and stiffened their muscles, which affects how the heart’s walls move, according to CMRs. Conventional tests might not detect several of these symptoms.

The silent heart damage caused by what does cocaine do to your heart can also be found using an electrocardiogram (ECG). Compared to non-users, cocaine addicts’ typical resting heart rates are much lower, according to an ECG study of the population. In the same study, cocaine users have more severe bradycardia or abnormally slow heart rate. The more cocaine a person uses, the more severe their disease becomes.

Treatment of Cardiovascular Issues Caused by Cocaine Addiction

The patient’s life may be in danger if a doctor is unaware that the patient has used cocaine. Beta-blockers and clot-busting medications are the standard treatments for heart attacks.

what does cocaine do to your heart
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Upon further escalating what does cocaine do to your heart, cocaine raises blood pressure and the risk of brain bleeding if a patient takes a clot-busting medication; these medications interact poorly with cocaine. A doctor will be able to address the cardiac issue properly as they are aware of what does cocaine do to your heart.

Those who have used cocaine, for instance, cannot utilize beta blockers. By preventing the effects of the hormone adrenaline, this type of life-saving drug lowers blood pressure. The heartbeat is slowed, and the heart can pump less vigorously when adrenaline is blocked. Beta-blockers may cause greater blood vessel constriction in people who have used cocaine, raising blood pressure even higher.

If you experience a heart attack, your doctor might be reluctant to implant a stent since it raises your risk of blood clotting. But, if a clot does form, your doctor might be unable to administer clot-busting medication.

Bottom Line

As much of the damage from cocaine use might be irreversible, quitting does not immediately lower your risk for cardiovascular health issues. Yet stopping cocaine use can stop future damage, which lowers your chance of cocaine-related medical problems, including heart attacks.

It may be beneficial to seek professional assistance if you frequently take cocaine or even if you do so sometimes. Cocaine is a very addictive substance. Continual use might result in dependency and even addiction. Your body can grow acclimated to the drug’s effects, which might make withdrawal symptoms more challenging.

See your doctor about getting support to stop using the substance. Your doctor might suggest that you visit a rehab center or a substance abuse counselor. These groups and individuals can help you overcome withdrawal symptoms and better understand the reality of what does cocaine do to your heart.


Apeksha Soni

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