Opioids are a drug class used to reduce pain. They work by binding to opioid receptors throughout the body to block pain messages sent to the brain to the spinal cord. Due to the way opioids interact with the body, they can have adverse effects on the heart.
Here are a few common heart conditions associated with opioid use.
6 Common Heart Conditions Associated With Opioid Use
Opioids are central nervous system depressants, meaning they slow down various processes in the body. When they slow down your heart rate too much, it is referred to as a symptom called bradycardia. In addition to a slower than normal heart rate, bradycardia may also lead to dangerously low pressure, excess fluid in the body, and the loss of consciousness due to the lack of oxygen in the brain.
While bradycardia typically doesn’t cause symptoms at rest, it can lead to poor exercise tolerance if the heart becomes incapable of increasing normally with exercise.
Arrhythmia is another common cardiovascular condition that can occur with opioid use. Opioids commonly influence the electrical activity of the heart partly because they can alter breathing during sleep. Doing so can change your heart rate or increase the likelihood of arrhythmias.
One common example of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, which occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly. It is known to increase the risk of heart problems, including stroke and heart failure.
3) Cardiac Arrest
Taking too many opioids can lead to cardiac arrest, which is when your heart stops beating. When people die from opioid overdose, it’s usually due to cardiac arrest. This is because during an opioid overdose, breathing and heart rate slow. Even before the heart stops beating, the brain isn’t getting enough oxygen, leading to brain damage.
Endocarditis is inflammation of the heart valves and the lining of the heart. It’s a life-threatening condition that often results from a bacterial infection that gets into the bloodstream. It is more common in those who inject drugs using dirty or shared needles.
Endocarditis can lead to severe complications, including heart failure and pulmonary embolism, and if left untreated, it can lead to death.
5) Broken Heart Syndrome
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a temporary heart condition that often develops from severe emotional or physical stress. It’s also referred to as “broken heart syndrome” because it often occurs after the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or another serious event. But it can also occur after a person suddenly quits opioids and they develop heart failure.
During broken heart syndrome, the main pumping chamber in the heart weakens. It often looks like a heart attack, involving symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath.
6) Ventricular Tachycardia
Ventricular Tachycardia – Methadone and buprenorphine are two types of opioids that can induce QT prolongation. This condition can produce torsades de pointes, which is a dangerous form of ventricular tachycardia. It can produce severe episodes of lightheadedness, temporary loss of consciousness due to a fall in blood pressure or sudden death.
Opioids and the Heart
Opioid medications can have numerous adverse effects on the heart. They can alter the heart rate, lower blood pressure, slow breathing, reduce heart function, and increase the risk of heart disease by raising cholesterol and fat in the blood, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Given that opioids and cardiovascular disease are leading causes of death, it’s important to do your research and consult with your doctor about a pain management plan that’s right for you.
If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health condition, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800- 662-TALK (4357) for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.