Cocaine’s effects on the heart can cause both immediate emergencies, such as a heart attack, and long-term damage.
Regular, long-term cocaine use
Keep reading to learn more about how cocaine affects the heart and when to seek medical attention.
Cocaine is a stimulant, which means that it elevates blood pressure and heart rate, in addition to making a person feel more energetic and alert. These changes affect how the heart functions in the short term.
Prolonged cocaine use, however, may cause long-term heart health issues.
The effects of cocaine on the heart include:
Coronary artery disease
CAD is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke, as well as for sudden death. Cocaine users who have other risk factors — such as having overweight or eating an unhealthful diet — or who use cocaine for a long time may sustain further heart damage. This additional damage increases the risk of heart attack even more.
Higher blood pressure
Cocaine use can elevate blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart health problems and heart attack. A
Damage to the structure of the heart
Cocaine use may damage the physical structures of the heart, either directly or by causing other serious issues, such as high blood pressure. A
This damage increases the risk of other heart health problems, such as irregular heart rate. It may also elevate the risk of heart attack.
People who use cocaine are
Cocaine users may be more likely to experience chest pain under the influence of cocaine or because of the chronic health effects of the drug.
Causes of cocaine-associated chest pain include heart rhythm abnormalities, changes in the body’s demand for oxygen, heart attack, spasms of the arteries around the heart, and heart infections.
Congestive heart failure
Heart attack and stroke
The damage that cocaine does to the heart and blood vessels increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and similar risk factors all increase a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke.
A 2018 study suggests that cocaine may also increase the risk of heart attack in young people who would otherwise be at low risk. The study included 2,097 people under the age of 50 years who had had a heart attack.
The participants who used illegal drugs, such as cocaine, had fewer traditional heart health risk factors, including diabetes. Despite this, they were still twice as likely to die in the years following their heart attack.
About 5% of the participants had used cocaine before their heart attack. This fact suggests, though does not prove, that cocaine may trigger heart attack in some people.
Heart disease and symptoms of heart health problems are very serious. A person who uses cocaine should see a doctor if:
- they have cocaine use disorder and want help to quit
- they have cocaine use disorder and other risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
- they have a history of unusual heart rhythms
- they are undergoing treatment for heart health issues, and their symptoms are worsening
A person using cocaine should seek emergency medical attention if:
- they experience sudden, intense chest pain and shortness of breath, especially when under the influence of the drug
- they lose consciousness, feel or seem confused, or experience numbness on one side of the body
- they have trouble breathing or feel as though they cannot catch their breath
- they think that they may have overdosed on cocaine or another drug
Cocaine is a dangerous and potentially deadly drug.
Any cocaine use can undermine heart health, but chronic, frequent use presents the biggest risk.
Drug use disorders are real medical conditions, and treatment will often work. People who feel compelled to keep using cocaine should see a compassionate medical professional who specializes in addiction.