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The Effects of Meth on the Heart & Cardiovascular System

Methamphetamine, meth, is a highly addictive stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system (CNS).1,2 An FDA-approved stimulant prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, it is sold under the brand name Desoxyn, the only legal form of meth.1 Meth is also commonly sold on the street for recreational use.1

In this article, we will cover:

  • The short- and long-term effects of meth use on the heart and cardiovascular system.
  • How to find treatment for methamphetamine abuse.
  • Frequently asked questions about what meth does to your heart.

The Short-Term Effects of Meth on the Heart

Short-term meth effects on the heart can start quickly, depending on the method used. Smoking or injecting methamphetamine sends the substance into the bloodstream very rapidly, creating an intense, immediate rush that amplifies the drug’s effects but lasts for only a few minutes.2

Snorting meth typically causes effects within 3 to 5 minutes, and ingesting methamphetamine pills orally produces effects within 15 to 20 minutes.2 Some of the most common short-term effects of meth on the body can include a feeling of euphoria or a “rush,” decreased appetite, increased energy, and rapid breathing.2

It is possible to experience the effects of methamphetamine on the heart, even when meth is taken in small amounts.1 Some of the short-term effects of meth on the heart and the rest of the cardiovascular system can include:1,3

  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Elevated blood pressure.
  • Elevated body temperature, also called hyperthermia.
  • Irregular heartbeat.

Methamphetamine is thought to have dangerous and potentially lethal effects on the arteries and blood vessels, leading to the adverse effects above.4 Exposure to methamphetamine has also been linked with higher incidence of cardiovascular disease, which is suspected to be a result of how methamphetamine alters the structure and function of cardiac tissue.4

A short-term effect of methamphetamine misuse also includes the risk of developing a meth addiction or accidental overdose.2 Symptoms of overdose on methamphetamine often include increased risk of stroke, heart attack, or damage to the organs due to overheating.1

During a meth overdose, hyperthermia and convulsions are likely to occur.2 If these effects are not treated immediately, elevated body temperature can cause damage to the internal organs and even result in death.1,2,

If you or a loved one are experiencing the signs of a meth overdose, it is important to call 9-1-1 immediately.

Long-Term Effects of Meth on the Heart

In the longer term, methamphetamine’s effects on the heart can be quite severe. Taken in high doses or over a longer period of time, methamphetamine can cause dangerously elevated body temperature, convulsions, or even cardiovascular collapse due to stress on the body.1

These effects can be life-threatening if they are not treated immediately.1 In addition to the dose affecting meth effects on the heart, other factors impacting severity and lethality can include how long a person has been using meth and whether they have any pre-existing conditions.3

Continued use can lead to long-term damage to the body.

Meth Use and Arrhythmias

An arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat, can occur when your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or at an irregular rhythm.5 Research has shown that methamphetamine use can lead to an increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias due to the impact of the substance on the structure and cells of the heart, causing it to beat irregularly.4

If an arrhythmia is not treated, it can lead to other cardiovascular complications, such as a stroke, heart attack, or cardiac arrest, which can be fatal if it is not treated rapidly.5

Meth Use and Heart Disease

Heart disease also known as cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term used to describe all the diseases of the heart and blood vessels.6 Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.6

Methamphetamine use can cause abnormal changes to the cardiac tissue, resulting in heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions.7

Many of the changes that occur in the heart after chronic exposure to meth mirror those of hypertensive heart disease, or heart disease that is caused by high blood pressure.7

The most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease, a condition when the blood vessels leading to the heart become constricted or blocked.

Two common underlying factors contributing to coronary artery disease are hypertension and high cholesterol. Meth is known to cause hypertension .6 A 2019 study in the Journal of Cardiology found that a hypertensive heart was found in about 32% of methamphetamine-related deaths.7

Chronic use of methamphetamine can lead to multiple heart problems that include aortic dissection or cardiomyopathy.3

There is evidence that heart disease can be treated and managed as a chronic condition with medication, and dietary and lifestyle changes.6

Meth Use and Heart Failure

Using methamphetamine can also lead to the development of heart failure over time.8 Heart failure is a condition in which your heart does not pump enough blood for your body’s needs.9

This can happen for multiple reasons—either your heart cannot fill up with blood due to problems with the veins and arteries being clogged or insufficient, or the muscle may be too weak to pump the blood properly or the heart valves may not be functioning properly.9

The mechanism of how meth use can lead to heart failure is not well understood, but there is a correlation between misusing this substance and developing heart failure.8

It is also possible to experience cardiac arrest from meth use, an event in which the heart unexpectedly stops pumping blood.10 This is due to certain types of arrhythmias, and heart disease can be a risk factor for cardiac arrest.10

Between 300,000 and 450,000 people die every year from cardiac arrest.10

Furthermore, a study of over 35 million Americans found that methamphetamine users have a 27% higher risk of sudden cardiac death due to arrhythmias than the general population.4

Research has indicated that heart disease resulting from meth use can develop in as little as 12 months for about 1 in every 5 people using the drug.11 The average duration of meth use before being diagnosed with heart disease is 5 years.11 Abstinence from methamphetamine has been shown to improve outcomes and may be able to mitigate its effects on the cardiovascular system.11

Checking Your Insurance Benefits

If you are looking for meth addiction treatment, it can feel overwhelming As you consider your options, knowing exactly what your insurance plan covers can give you peace of mind while you or your loved one is in rehab. You can do the work of getting and staying sober without worrying about unexpected costs or financial struggles. For more information on what your insurance plan covers, call AAC at , or verify your insurance online.

Getting into Treatment for Meth Addiction

If you or a loved one are struggling with methamphetamine use and are concerned about how methamphetamine affects the heart, help is available. The most effective approaches to meth addiction treatment are behavioral therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, or motivational incentives.2

Many treatment approaches also include involvement in a 12-step program or another peer support network.2 Utilizing incentives to motivate clients to stay in treatment has been shown to be highly effective as a strategy.3

There are currently no FDA-approved medications used to treat the specific effects of methamphetamine or to help prolong abstinence from this substance.2 Medication management has also not been well-established for methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms.3

Effective treatment is individualized to meet your needs. Treatment can vary in terms of format, duration, intensity, and setting. Inpatient treatment for methamphetamine use typically takes place in a hospital setting and involves medical management of acute physical and psychiatric symptoms.3

Detoxification can also occur in an inpatient setting and lasts between 3 and 10 days while your body withdraws from meth.3

Once stabilized, you may progress to residential rehab, which can last between 30 days to 1 year in duration, for more structured support.3 While in treatment, your heart problems will be managed by the healthcare team on the facility’s staff.

Depending on their severity and your other medical needs, it may be recommended you see a specialist, such as a cardiologist.

To find out more information about meth addiction treatment, contact one of AAC’s admissions navigators today. They can help you by providing support and answers to any questions you may have, verifying your insurance benefits, and finding a treatment option that is right for you.

Meth’s Effects on the Heart FAQs

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