How Opioid Use Affects the Heart

It is well-known that opioid use can be dangerous. While prescribed opioids can bring much-needed relief to patients who are in severe pain, they also present risks. If you or a loved one is addicted to opioids, you need to know that other health issues could be looming. You need to get professional help in treating opioid addiction and addressing the accompanying health problems.

According to National Institute on Drug Abuse statistics, around a quarter of patients who are prescribed opioids abuse them. Then there are those who misuse these drugs even though they don’t currently have a prescription or never had one. As a consequence, more than 130 people die in the United States each day because of opioid abuse.

Opioids are highly likely to be addictive. Even people who are under a doctor’s care are at risk of developing an addiction. However, using drugs like heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone can have other serious effects. For example, it can affect the health of your heart whether you have a prescription or not. For addicts, the risks are even more serious since they are not likely to be getting frequent medical checks. Opioids also have an even greater effect on the heart if you have an existing cardiovascular problem. For people dealing with opioid addiction, there’s a lot at stake.

Getting your addiction under control can help you to better manage both your mental wellbeing and your physical health. Let’s look more closely at the link between opioid use and heart health.

Possible Effects of Opioids on the Heart

Researchers say the use of prescription opioids for an extended time can harm the heart. One study by the Vanderbilt Department of Health Policy found that patients who took opioids were 65 percent more likely to die from heart problems than those who took non-opioid painkillers.

Some of the problems long-term users may experience include:

  • Depressed function of the heart muscle. On their own, opioids don’t prevent the heart muscle from contracting forcefully. However, muscle contractions can be affected when opioids are used with benzodiazepines like Valium. Some people who have chronic conditions are prescribed both drugs. In people with underlying heart problems like cardiomyopathy, opioids and benzodiazepines can hasten heart failure.
  • Opioid use, whether prescription or illegal, can cause your heart rate to slow down. That’s because opioids slow down the sinus nodes, the part of the heart responsible for generating electrical impulses. Bradycardia isn’t usually symptomatic, but it can make physical exertion difficult.
  • Atrial fibrillation. Another possible effect of opioid use is a fast and irregular heart rhythm. This happens when opioids disrupt the electrical signals in the atria, the heart’s upper cardiac chambers. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Ventricular tachycardia. Methadone and buprenorphine can cause a phenomenon called QT prolongation. This can lead to a dangerous form of ventricular tachycardia or fast, abnormal heart rate. This is characterized by severe light-headedness, loss of consciousness caused by a drop in blood pressure and sudden death.
  • Some opioid users experience dilation of their blood vessels. This leads to low blood pressure which, when severe, can deprive the heart and brain of the necessary oxygen.
  • Infective endocarditis. This is a type of heart infection. It is most likely to occur in people who misuse injected opioids. Infections often occur in the valves of the heart when bacteria and fungi from the injection site enter the blood vessels. If the patient doesn’t get a course of antibiotics in time, they may need a valve replacement. Replacement valves are more susceptible to infection. If the individual doesn’t get their use disorder under control, they may need more surgeries. If left untreated, infective endocarditis can be fatal.

Even short-term misuse of opioids can have a negative effect on the heart. Misuse, overdose, and withdrawal affect the heart immediately. Opioid overdose depresses the central nervous system and it can cause the heart to stop. Meanwhile, during withdrawal, some people experience a fast heart rate and higher blood pressure. Adrenaline levels can also increase, and this can make the heart unstable.

Get Help Treating Opioid Addiction from Asheville Recovery Center

If you are misusing or addicted to opioids, you could develop heart issues and other health problems. The team at Asheville Recovery Center can help you to recover in a safe environment. Our recovery program for treating opioid addiction was developed by people who have experienced addiction and we take a personalized approach to each patient. Call us today to learn how we can help you.

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