Cocaine overdose causes a deadly domino effect on the body’s systems. One of the ways cocaine can be fatal is due to its effects on the heart. As a stimulant, cocaine can cause a fast heartbeat and an abnormal heart rhythm, as well as abnormal levels of chemicals that the heart needs. Because of these factors, cocaine use has been linked to cardiac arrest, a condition where the heart suddenly stops beating. If left untreated, cardiac arrest is fatal within a few minutes. Deaths from cocaine use are often linked to cardiac arrest. Therefore, if you or a loved one struggle with cocaine use, it is important to know why it can be dangerous for your heart.

Article at a Glance:

  • Cardiac arrest is a common cause of death from cocaine use.
  • Cocaine impacts many chemicals that are important to the heart, like sodium, potassium, calcium, and norepinephrine.
  • A wide range of heart problems from cocaine use can lead to cardiac arrest.
  • Cardiac arrest can occur even if it is the first time you have used cocaine.
  • Most people do not survive cardiac arrest.

How Does Cocaine Impact the Heart?

Cocaine impacts the heart in a few ways. The chemical norepinephrine, or NE, is made by your body and is important to your fight-or-flight response. Normally, your body can get rid of NE so it does not continue to stimulate your system after it is no longer needed. However, cocaine interferes with this process, so NE stays around in your body much longer than it should. The result is often an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

In addition, cocaine interferes with chemicals that the heart needs to beat correctly. These chemicals include calcium, sodium and potassium. By causing problems with these chemicals, cocaine use can lead to abnormal heart rhythm.

How Can Cocaine Cause Cardiac Arrest?

While cardiac arrest is most often linked to cocaine injections, it can occur with snorted or smoked cocaine as well. Heart problems like cardiac arrest can occur even if you are not a regular user of cocaine. It is possible to go into cardiac arrest the first time that cocaine is used. Heart problems can occur as soon as a few minutes after cocaine use, and as late as a few days after use.

Most cardiac arrest events caused by cocaine are linked to a combination of heart problems that cocaine can cause. A person does not need to have all of these problems, or even most of them, to experience cardiac arrest from cocaine use. These heart problems include:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • A rapid increase in blood pressure
  • Narrowing of the blood vessels
  • Spasms in the arteries
  • Inflammation of the heart
  • Enlarged heart
  • Heart attack

Cocaine can cause problems like a heart attack even if the heart is otherwise healthy. One study found that almost 40% of people who experienced a heart attack from cocaine use had healthy arteries. If someone has preexisting heart problems, they may be at even higher risk of heart problems from cocaine use.

Symptoms of Cardiac Arrest from Cocaine Use

Cardiac arrest itself often has no symptoms. However, cocaine users whose hearts are harmed by cocaine use may complain of chest pain before going into cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest requires emergency medical treatment. If cardiac arrest is suspect, emergency medical services should be called immediately. 

Unfortunately, people frequently do not survive experiencing cardiac arrest. If someone does survive cardiac arrest, they may have health problems like brain damage from the lack of oxygen.

If you struggle with cocaine use, contact The Recovery Village today. The health risks of sustained cocaine use are too severe to ignore. Professional treatment is the best way to address cocaine addiction alongside any co-occurring mental health disorders. You deserve a healthier future, call today.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.