Cocaine, Other Drugs and Heart Disease

Updated:Sep 16,2015

Woman Crouching On FloorMany drugs affect the central nervous system and how it works. Many so-called "recreational drugs" can alter the user's consciousness. The risks associated with use of these drugs include:

  • changes in body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure
  • headaches, abdominal pain, and nausea
  • impaired judgment and greater risk of some sexually transmitted infections
  • addiction
  • lack of quality control in preparing illegal drugs.
  • possibility of added substances (such as talc, poisons, herbicides or other particles) which may cause a toxic reaction.
  • the toxic effects of the drugs themselves. For example, some drugs may cause heart attacks, seizures, and respiratory arrest
How does cocaine affect the heart?
Cocaine use can cause damage to the heart, which may contribute to many more deaths each year. Cocaine use has been associated with chest pain, heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, aortic dissection, and fatal and nonfatal arrhythmias.

Others include:
  • myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) 
  • endocarditis (inflammation of the inner lining of the heart) 
  • pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) 
  • vascular thrombosis (blood clots in blood vessels) 
  • dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart)
Some of these potentially fatal complications can occur in a first-time user. Older people with abnormal coronary arteries and diseased blood vessels in the brain are at even greater risk.

Cocaine is doubly dangerous for pregnant women. Not only can it cause cardiovascular complications, but evidence is accumulating that cocaine can lead to premature delivery, lower birth weight, and smaller head diameters in babies born to mothers who abuse cocaine.

Today law enforcement agencies and the medical community recognize cocaine as dangerous illicit drugs in common use. Because it's increasingly popular and easily bought, the number of cocaine-related cardiovascular disabilities and deaths may be expected to rise. Furthermore, smoking crack cocaine, which is cheaper, more potent and widely available, will lead to even more strokes and heart attacks in younger people not normally "at risk."

This content was last reviewed July 2015.

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Cardiovascular Conditions

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