Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug that can raise the heart rate and blood pressure. These changes can affect how the heart works and may cause a heart attack.
When a heart attack occurs due to cocaine, people may experience symptoms such as chest tightness or discomfort and shortness of breath. This is because cocaine makes the cardiovascular system work much harder while reducing blood flow to the heart by constricting the capillaries, which are blood vessels throughout the body.
This article will explain how cocaine may cause a heart attack, its symptoms, and how doctors treat it. It will also explore the short-term and long-term effects of the drug on the body and cardiovascular system.
Cocaine makes the heart work harder, increasing its oxygen and nutrient needs. At the same time, the drug restricts the capillaries, reducing blood flow and increasing blood pressure. This makes it more difficult for the heart to receive oxygen and nutrients, damaging the cardiovascular system.
Nearly 25,000 people in the United States died in 2021 because of cocaine. Most deaths happened due to seizures or heart attacks after taking the drug.
If a heart attack occurs after taking cocaine, a person
Other symptoms of a heart attack
- shortness of breath
- jaw, back, or neck pain
- discomfort or pain in one or both arms and shoulders
Heart attacks are life threatening. If a person experiences any of these symptoms, they should promptly contact the emergency services and seek medical attention.
- Increased blood pressure: Cocaine significantly raises blood pressure, increasing the risk of damage to the cardiovascular system and cardiac events.
- Coronary artery disease: Cocaine causes coronary artery diseases through several mechanisms, including narrowing blood flow through blood vessels and accelerated atherosclerosis due to weakened cell walls.
- Arrhythmia: Cocaine
can causean increased or irregular heart rate. This is because it can affect the heart’s electrical system through various chemical changes. It can also cause life threatening arrhythmias, such as ventricular tachycardia, which can lead to cardiac arrest and death.
- Congestive heart failure: Using cocaine
can causeissues with the heart muscle pumping blood in the body. Congestive heart failure is a serious life threatening condition that can lead to multiple complications, such as organ failure.
The effects of taking cocaine are almost immediate after taking a dose. It can last from a few minutes to an hour, depending on how a person takes it. After taking cocaine, people may experience psychological effects, including:
- increased energy levels
- a decrease in the need for food and sleep
- hypersensitivity to sound, touch, and light
- being more mentally alert
- anxiety and panic
- irritability and violent behavior
These psychological effects can cause physical symptoms, such as:
- pupil dilation
- increased body temperature and heart rate
- the constriction of blood vessels and a rise in blood pressure
- muscle twitches
Regularly snorting cocaine can cause chronic inflammation of the nasal septum, causing symptoms such as:
- a nosebleed
- the loss of sense of smell
- problems with swallowing
Regular use of cocaine makes the brain start adapting to this substance. This increases the body’s tolerance, requiring more frequent doses of cocaine and causing withdrawal symptoms, such as negative moods, when a person does not take it.
Long-term cocaine use can cause several major health complications. These
- significant weight loss and malnourishment
- tears and ulcerations of the gastrointestinal tract due to the reduced blood flow
- increased risk of stroke and seizures
- heart inflammation
- ruptures of major blood vessels
In general, a cocaine heart attack requires similar care to a typical heart attack. However, doctors cannot administer beta-blockers, a fundamental part of the treatment for managing typical heart attacks, for treating cocaine-induced episodes.
This is because giving beta-blockers to people who have taken cocaine can lead to more artery constriction and increased blood pressure.
- Anticoagulant drugs: Doctors may give blood thinners to prevent the formation of blood clots and to avoid the growth of any existing blood clots. Treatment with blood thinners, such as aspirin or glycoprotein, needs further study. However, it is theoretically useful to prevent further platelet or clot buildup and keep the blood vessels open for blood flow.
- Vasodilators: These help relax the blood vessels, increasing the blood flow and the oxygen supply. Vasodilators also help reduce the workload of the heart, reducing its strain.
- Calcium channel blockers: These medications help relax the blood vessels and decrease the pumping strength of the heart by interrupting the movement of calcium into their cells. However, doctors should not recommend calcium channel blockers as a first-line treatment.
- Nitroglycerin: Nitroglycerin can reverse cocaine-associated vasoconstriction.
Doctors may also perform surgery to repair heart valves or other parts of the cardiovascular system that may have caused or sustained damage during the heart attack.
Several organizations offer support to people with drug addiction, including cocaine. If a person has an addiction, they can speak with a doctor who can help them start their rehabilitation. Doctors can recommend the most appropriate treatment for preventing withdrawal symptoms and help quitting drugs.
People can also contact find support by contacting the following:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA’s) National Helpline: This is a confidential and free helpline people can reach anytime. SAMHSA offers support to people and families dealing with substance use disorders and mental illnesses.
- Cocaine Anonymous: This is an organization with people who support each other by sharing their experience, strength, and hope with others dealing with cocaine addiction.
- SMART Recovery: This helps individuals recover from their addictions through group therapy.
Using cocaine can cause a heart attack. It is a powerful stimulant drug that causes the restriction of blood vessels and significantly increases the heart rate.
Long-term use of cocaine can cause several serious health complications, including cardiovascular problems, increased risk of seizures and stroke, and heart failure.