Methamphetamine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that acts on the central nervous system. The consequences of methamphetamine addiction are numerous, but its impact on the heart is often overlooked. To truly understand the severity of meth addiction, this post analyzes its role in heart health. Scroll down to learn more.
Scope of Methamphetamine Addiction
The CDC reports in recent years, the availability of methamphetamine and meth-related harms have been increasing in the United States. In the period between 2015 and 2018, about 1.6 million US adults reported past-year methamphetamine use. Additionally, 52.9% of adults had methamphetamine use disorder, and 25% reported injecting meth.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains the important caveat to the national numbers of meth users is the degree to which they mask regional variability. Even though meth is available across the United States, western and Midwestern regions have the highest availability. Over 70% of local law enforcement agencies from the pacific and west-central areas of the US consider methamphetamine as the greatest drug threat in their area.
The treatment admissions for meth use disorder vary from one region to another, and so does the number of death cases due to overdose. Texas, Florida, Washington, Colorado, and Georgia reported an increased number of meth overdose deaths in 2017.
Does Methamphetamine Affect The Heart?
Like other drugs, methamphetamine harms the body in more ways than one. The heart is not an exception.
The American Journal of Medicine published a study that included 107 young patients with cardiomyopathy and 114 controls and made interesting findings. The study showed that meth users had a 3.7-fold higher risk of cardiomyopathy, even when other factors such as BMI, age, and renal failure were taken into consideration. Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. The condition can lead to heart failure.
A case study involving a 47-year-old emergency department patient with severe shortness of breath study shows the true danger of meth for heart health. Upon urinary drug screening in the ER, it was revealed the patient used meth. He stated that he had been using methamphetamine for the past three years.
The patient had methamphetamine-induced cardiomyopathy (MACM), which led to heart failure. After optimal medical treatment, his symptoms didn’t improve, and he was considered for a heart transplant. The case study concludes it’s necessary to perform the early cardiac evaluation in asymptomatic patients with a history of meth use to decrease the risk of dangers that MACM brings.
There is a lot we need to learn about how does meth affect the heart, but evidence shows it can also influence heart rate variability. A study from the Addiction Biology found that compared to drug-free subjects, meth users exhibited a reduction in heart rate variability, decreased vagal tone, and lowered heartbeat complexity. The impact of meth use on heart function also extends to decreased heart rate.
However, abstinence from taking meth made heart function test results similar to those of drug-free subjects. The importance of meth recovery shouldn’t be underestimated. Thanks to a methamphetamine addiction treatment center for women in Dallas-Fort Worth, like Stonegate Center Hilltop, patients can overcome this condition and start a healthier lifestyle that will protect their hearts too.
The above-mentioned example is not the only study that found that stopping meth use could help repair the heart. One research compared the medical records of 74 patients with meth-associated heart failure and 83 heart failure patients who didn’t use this drug. Even though meth-using patients were younger, their heart problems were more severe.
In people with meth addiction, the main pumping chamber in the heart was more likely to be enlarged, but it pumped a lower quantity of blood. During the study period of one year, subjects with meth-associated heart failure were hospitalized four times more than their counterparts. Additionally, meth users were five times more likely to abuse opioids and eight times more likely to abuse alcohol. Scientists evaluated subjects at the baseline, six months, and 12 months.
Then, they compared heart function in 27 subjects who stopped using meth and 19 participants who were still using the drug at 12 months of the study period. Subjects who stopped using meth had a 43% improvement in the heart’s pumping ability. In 4% of continued meth users, the pumping ability of the heart worsened.
Moreover, participants who stopped taking meth also had lower levels of a protein that is usually produced in response to increased pressure on the heart muscle. Scientists concluded their study provides hope that heart failure can be improved with meth addiction treatment and optimal therapy for this cardiovascular problem.
This is yet another reason why 24/7 medical detox from meth addiction in Texas, such as the one offered at Stonegate Center, can help save a person’s life.
How Does Methamphetamine Harm Your Heart?
A lot more research is necessary to understand all the mechanisms through which methamphetamine can harm a person’s heart. Evidence shows meth increases the activity of catecholamine, a type of neurohormone, in the area of the peripheral nervous system responsible for controlling heart rate and blood pressure.
In fact, abnormally high catecholamine activity is considered as the main culprit for the cardiotoxic effects of methamphetamine. The cardiotoxic properties of meth lead to spasm and narrowing of the blood vessels, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), high blood pressure, and potential death of heart muscle. The development of fibrous tissue and enlargement of heart muscle cells may also occur due to cardiotoxicity induced by methamphetamine use.
With chronic use, the heart muscle becomes enlarged, rigid, and thick. As a result, it becomes difficult for the heart to pump blood. When a person takes meth and pushes the body to the extremes, the heart starts working faster. This puts more stress on the heart and elevates the risk of serious complications such as stroke and heart failure.
Moreover, methamphetamine induces structural and electrical remodeling of the cardiac tissue, thus leading to heart failure and arrhythmias. Cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death among methamphetamine users, following only accidental overdose.
Multiple mechanisms are involved in cardiovascular problems in meth use, besides cardiotoxicity. For example, methamphetamine has a proatherosclerotic effect that may involve enhanced pro-inflammatory responses. These pro-inflammatory responses contribute to plaque vulnerability, thus leading to problems such as high blood pressure.
High blood pressure affects millions of people today, and it leads to heart issues such as atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke. Also, methamphetamine induces profound mitochondrial dysfunction and death of cardiac myocyte, which are involved in cardiomyopathy and heart failure.
Even though decreased mitochondrial function and enhanced oxidative stress are common consequences of meth use, specific reasons behind these molecular alterations linked with cardiovascular problems are still largely unknown. A lot more research is necessary to understand why exactly methamphetamine acts on a cellular level to harm our heart health, but also to identify critical molecular pathways and prognostic markers to evaluate and predict meth-induced pathological defects.
New research offers clues regarding the mechanism through which methamphetamine use affects the heart. The use of meth triggers the accumulation of collagen, tough protein fibers, in the heart muscle. Scientists also noticed indications that meth induces structural changes in the heart by inhibiting a specific receptor in the heart. They urged rehabilitation centers for methamphetamine users to routinely monitor heart function and look for the signs of heart failure. This is particularly important if we bear in mind that early detection prevents further deterioration of the heart muscle.
It’s necessary to monitor the heart and its function even after a person quits using the drug. In some cases, the heart damage is irreversible, which only intensifies the importance of proper meth addiction treatment and regular evaluation of the heart muscle.
What Heart Problems Emerge Due To Meth Use?
Based on the above-described studies, methamphetamine use harms our heart in many ways and contributes to the development of certain heart problems. Some heart problems were mentioned above, but below, we are going to list them for easier understanding. Methamphetamine use is strongly associated with the following heart problems:
- Arrhythmia – An irregular heartbeat, which also happens to be one of the most common immediate or short-term effects of meth use. An arrhythmia occurs when the electrical impulses that coordinate heartbeats don’t work properly. It may manifest itself through symptoms such as fluttering in the chest, chest pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, fatigue, and dizziness.
- Vasoconstriction – chronic exposure to methamphetamine constricts blood vessels and may contribute to acute angina. Acute angina is linked with vasospasm of the coronary arteries, thus leading to diminished blood flow to the cardiac tissue. Moreover, methamphetamine promotes the dysfunction of smooth muscle and reduces nitric oxide sensitivity. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator; it works to dilate blood vessels and improve blood flow.
- Coronary artery disease – since methamphetamine can harm smooth muscles, coronary artery disease may develop. Other potential mechanisms are worth exploring too.
- Myocardial infarction – both rapid and sustained effects of meth on myocardial function are observed. It happens because meth constricts blood vessels.
- Cardiomyopathy – the degree of fibrosis predicts the functional recovery following quitting meth use. Cardiomyopathy and coronary artery disease are linked with one another. In coronary artery disease, these blood vessels have blockages, and cardiomyopathy may develop.
Is Cardiac Damage Caused by Meth Reversible?
Above in the post, we mentioned studies which confirmed that quitting meth can help repair the heart damage it caused. The likelihood of recovery depends on the length of meth addiction and the quantity of drug used. In some cases, the damage can be so severe and irreversible, but in many cases, it is still possible to recover and heal the heart.
Animal trials and limited human case studies have suggested the outlook for meth users who experience heart complications is optimistic. Of course, the bedrock of reversibility of heart damage is abstinence, i.e. complete recovery where a person doesn’t use the drug anymore at all. Cardiac remodeling is further ameliorated with proper cardiovascular medications.
In one case study, a patient abstaining from methamphetamines and starting medical therapy experienced an improvement in the left ventricular ejection fraction from 37% to 64%.
What Factors Contribute to The Cardiovascular Effects of Meth?
Even though meth abuse is common today, the sufficient dose that marks the onset of cardiovascular problems is unknown. There is no specific dosage, after which you can develop heart problems because individual differences apply. The degree of tolerance, dosage, and responsiveness to the drug contributes to the cardiovascular effects of meth and their severity.
Additionally, there is no safe route of administration. A chronic meth user may develop heart problems regardless of whether the drug is taken orally, smoked, injected, or administered in an intranasal way.
The risk of heart problems in meth users increases with higher dosages, especially when methamphetamine is taken in combination with other substances such as cocaine, opiates, or alcohol.
Just like other drugs, methamphetamine use can harm our body in many ways. Heart damage caused by methamphetamine may be irreversible in some people. But for many, it’s entirely possible to improve heart health or even reverse the damage. The fundamental part of reversing heart problems caused by meth is to stop taking the drug.
Methamphetamine treatment centers nowadays allow men and women to get much-needed help and assistance that can ultimately lead to a healthier heart and happier life.