Why Does Fentanyl Cause Bradycardia?

There are numerous dangerous side effects that can come along with the use of fentanyl, particularly with illicit use, or when it’s used in a way other than what’s prescribed and instructed by a physician. Fentanyl, which is a highly powerful opioid, is used in the treatment of severe, chronic pain, and more specifically it’s often breakthrough cancer pain.

One of the dangerous side effects is something called bradycardia. Below we describe what this is, and also explore why fentanyl causes bradycardia in some people.

Why Does Fentanyl Cause Bradycardia?
Bradycardia is a name for what happens when someone has a slow heartbeat or an irregular heartbeat. It’s usually defined as having less than 60 beats a minute. When someone experiences bradycardia, their heart can’t pump enough blood during both exercise as well as normal activity. Some of the symptoms of bradycardia include:

  • Dizziness
  • Pervasive lack of energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting

Along with the use of opioids like fentanyl, other causes of bradycardia can include:

  • Congenital heart disease
  • Heart medications
  • Aging
  • Scar tissue from a heart attack
  • Sick sinus syndrome or sinus node dysfunction
  • A heart block (the electrical impulse that travels through the heart is blocked)

When someone experiences bradycardia under most circumstances, the treatment depends on what’s causing it. For example, it may require certain medications or the implanting of a pacemaker, but with fentanyl use and bradycardia, it’s a different situation.

As was mentioned above, one of the examples of what happens with bradycardia is that there is an irregular heartbeat, which is also called palpitations. When someone has heart palpitations, it can be because they’re using opiates, and fentanyl falls into the class of drugs.

Cardiac arrhythmia is another term for what occurs when the natural rhythm of the heart is disrupted, and not only can opioids cause this to happen, but it can also happen when someone is going through withdrawal from opioids, which is why a medically supervised detox is so important.

When someone experiences heart palpitations and cardiac arrhythmia, it can then lead to very serious and deadly circumstances including stroke, heart failure or death.

So, along with knowing that fentanyl can cause bradycardia, you may be wondering why does fentanyl cause bradycardia.

Fentanyl and opioids in general act as depressants which slow down the body’s natural systems including the respiratory system and the heart.

When someone is a chronic abuser of opioids like fentanyl, it can lead to something called QT syndrome, where the electrical conduction of the heart is slowed, and the rhythm is disrupted. This can even happen with short-term opioid use.

When someone is a long-term user, this change in the natural rhythm of the heart can become permanent, contributing to a lack of adequate oxygen delivery and heart damage. These are also some of the reasons that chronic use of opioids can create infections in the heart valves and lining.

All of this occurs because when someone takes an opioid, it impacts the regulatory system of their brain and their heart and blood vessels.

So by looking at the answer to why does fentanyl cause bradycardia it shows how this drug impacts the heart when it’s actually taken, what about during withdrawal and detox?

When someone is dependent on opioids, heart palpitations, and also an increased heart rate are part of the symptoms. This happens because the person’s body has become used to the presence of opioids as a way to stabilize the vital functions of their body including their heart rate. When they then don’t have those opioids, it’s like their body goes into shock.

That’s why symptoms including palpitations, cardiac arrhythmia, and other heart rate symptoms may occur during withdrawal.

The fact that opioids like fentanyl can lead to complications with the heart during withdrawal is one of the reasons why a supervised detox program is so strongly recommended for people coming off these drugs.

Why Does Fentanyl Cause Bradycardia?
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