In 2018, over a million people in the U.S. ages 12 or older said they had a methamphetamine use disorder, meaning they abused the drug or became dependent on it. Methamphetamine, most commonly known as meth, can harm the body in several ways, including through heart damage and a greater risk of heart attack.
“What most people do not realize is overdosing is not the only cause of death when taking drugs,” Naveen Gupta, MBBS, BSc, a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based physician, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “Methamphetamine abusers also die from other causes such as heart failure and cardiovascular arrest, and these are only secondary to overdose death.”
Here’s some more information about how meth can hurt your heart and what to do about it.
How Methamphetamine Use Affects Heart Health
The stimulating effects of methamphetamine are a result of the drug’s effects on the central nervous system. Your nervous system sends messages from your brain to other organs, including the heart, which beats faster after meth use.
Methamphetamine use can lead to what experts call cardiotoxic effects, including:
- Narrowing of the blood vessels
- High blood pressure
- Weakening of the heart muscle
“It can cause acute heart attacks by causing a spasm of the coronary arteries, the arteries that supply the heart muscle,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of New York University’s Women’s Heart Program. “Medications that are used to treat the spasm are unable to work properly in someone who is using methamphetamine.”
Meth users are also more likely to have high cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
“Frequently the underlying damage being caused by methamphetamines is not realized early on, particularly in someone young and otherwise healthy, but still continues to worsen and can be long lasting,” says Soteri Polydorou, MD, medical director of addiction services at Northwell Health in Glen Oaks, N.Y.
In addition, methamphetamine use raises the chances of sudden death from heart disease by 27.5 percent.Those who use meth often can risk permanent heart damage if not treated in time, experts say.
“This is a dangerous drug and can cause lifelong disability,” Goldberg says.
New users are not immune to meth’s cardiovascular effects, especially as they might not know what their bodies can or cannot handle. “Inexperienced users might be less familiar with doses and can use a large amount of the drug their first time, causing an acute overdose,” Gupta says.
The cardiotoxic effects of methamphetamine also increase when meth is combined with alcohol or other drugs. If someone appears to show cardiovascular symptoms like chest pain, palpatations, or shortness of breath after meth use, they need medical attention right away, experts say.
Get Help Now
If you or a loved one is using meth, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Treatment options for a methamphetamine use disorder include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and treatment programs like the Matrix Model, which combines therapy with education and relapse prevention strategies.
A great way to get started is to get in touch with WebMD Connect to Care advisors, who are standing by to help answer any questions you might have about getting help for methamphetamine addiction treatment.