It’s festival season, one of Europe’s biggest festivals, the Sziget festival, is taking place right now, so perhaps the most important thing to do is to raise awareness about the heart-destroying effects of different drugs. Research suggests that cocaine, ecstasy or speed may be responsible for a significant proportion of sudden cardiac deaths among young people, while what we hear less about is that they cause heart failure in the long term. The National Patient Association for Heart Health is now warning about the lesser-known harmful effects of drug use.
That cocaine, or amphetamine derivatives, or heroin can cause sudden cardiac arrest is increasingly well known, has been investigated in several studies worldwide and has been clearly shown to be often linked to drug use in people aged 21-45, as the drug has damaged the heart and arteries. The risk is particularly high if they also drink alcohol or smoke. But the long-term consequences of regular drug use have been less discussed.
“It may already be in the news that drug use can cause sudden cardiac arrest, but what is not well known is that in the long term it can cause serious damage to the heart, leading to heart failure. In a study conducted in San Diego between 2005 and 2016, of the 15,909 hospitalisations of 11268 patients diagnosed with heart failure, 15.2 per cent were found to have used a drug (methamphetamine 5.2 per cent, opiates 8.2 per cent, alcohol 4.5 per cent), which was not that different in magnitude from the rates for other causes of heart failure (atrial fibrillation, ischaemic heart disease, chronic kidney disease). In these cases, if the patient is already at that stage, heart transplantation may be considered as a therapy, but drug use is clearly not conducive to the kind of close cooperation on the part of the patient that is a prerequisite for successful transplantation, and therefore the outcome may be questionable, and they are not placed on the waiting list. In other words, the stakes are high when someone turns to drugs, as they are undertaking irreversible processes, processes are started, in which the cardiologist can no longer provide a definitive solution”, points out Professor László Gellér, Deputy Head of the Department of Cardiology at the City Major Heart and Vascular Clinic, and future President of the Hungarian Society of Cardiologists. “The use of most drugs – cocaine, heroin, inhalants, ketamine, LSD, marijuana, ectasy, methamphetamine, nicotine, phencyclidine (PCP), prescription stimulants, steroids – has a detrimental effect on the cardiovascular system, causing a wide range of problems from abnormal heart rhythms to myocardial infarction. Intravenously administered drugs can lead to inflammatory diseases of the veins, not least bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves. Alcohol (ethanol) increases the risk of heart disease in the long term, while cannabis takes effect within minutes, speeding up the heartbeat and increasing the risk of heart attack. Inhaling inhalants (glues, paints, thinners, etc.) causes a lack of oxygen in the body, the heart beats faster and more irregularly, and can even cause a heart attack or suffocation. Cocaine causes cardiac arrhythmia, heart attack, and in the long term irreversible damage to the brain and heart. Ritalin (methylphenidate, a drug used to treat severely attention deficit children), when taken through the nose instead of orally in powdered form, places extreme strain on the heart, causes severe damage to the lungs and eyes when injected, and irreversibly damages the arteries of the heart and brain. Methamphetamines accelerate the heartbeat, causing an increase in blood pressure and long-term damage to the blood vessels in the brain, which can lead to strokes. Brain damage and memory loss can occur even in people who have quit drugs. Even 50 mg of speed at first use can cause a fatal heart attack. Ecstasy can be fatal in people with heart disease and severe liver or kidney disease. LSD can cause severe arrhythmia, anxiety and depression,” says Professor Gellér.
“We often see cases of heart failure in very young people. Sometimes we don’t even suspect what’s behind it, but then it turns out that the patient was a regular drug user. And then we feel that we have a great responsibility to tell people in good time that this lifestyle has serious dangers for the heart, of which most people are unaware. Because when it gets to that point, we often cannot help. One of the most important reasons for exclusion in heart transplantation is the lack of a proper psychosocial background. In our country, more than half of patients are not on the waiting list because of this problem. This includes alcohol and drug addiction and mental imbalance. Drug use therefore not only causes damage to the patient’s health, but also makes the solution and treatment of the problem very questionable,” adds Zsuzsanna Bernáth Lukács, President of the SZÍVSN National Patients’ Association.