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Drugs That May Lead to Heart Damage

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If you are taking medicine for a condition or using illicit drugs or other substances, it is important to know about potential side effects and adverse reactions. One of your best sources of information is a doctor who has a thorough knowledge of your health history.

Below are examples of medicines and illicit drugs that may cause heart problems. If you have concerns about the specific medicines that you are taking, talk to your doctor.

Prescription Medications

Examples of medicines in this class include:

  • Doxorubicin
  • Daunorubicin
  • Epirubicin
  • Idarubicin

Anthracyclines are prescribed to treat cancer. If used for a long time or in high doses, anthracyclines may cause damage to the heart muscle, including cardiomyopathy , a condition that causes abnormal growth of muscle fibers. This can lead progressive weakening of the heart muscle, and heart failure .

If you are taking anthracyclines, your doctor will carefully control the dose and monitor your heart function.

Antipsychotic Drugs

Antipsychotic drugs are typically used to treat certain mental disorders, such as schizophrenia . Examples of medicines in this class include:

  • Clozapine
  • Chlorpromazine
  • Fluphenazine
  • Haloperidol
  • Risperidone

Some antipsychotic drugs may increase the risk of cardiovascular problems like abnormal heart rhythms, and heart attacks.

Before you use these medicines, be sure to talk to your doctor about their risks and benefits.

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to reduce fever and pain. They can also be used to decrease pain and swelling associated with inflammation. NSAIDs are available by prescription from your doctor and some are available over-the-counter. A type of NSAID, called COX-2 inhibitors, carry the same risks as other NSAIDs.

Possible heart-related side effects from NSAID use include:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Increased blood pressure

You may be at a greater risk for adverse effects from NSAIDs if you:

  • Have been taking the medicine for a long period of time
  • Already have risk factors for cardiovascular disease

If you have any concerns about taking medications for pain or fever, talk to your doctor.

Drugs for Type 2 Diabetes

There are many different types of drugs that are used to treat type 2 diabetes . Some of these medicines, which may be combined with other drugs, can increase the risk of heart attack and congestive heart failure. Examples of these medicine are the thiazolidinediones, such as:

  • rosiglitazone
  • pioglitazone
Recreational and Street Drugs
Amphetamines and Amphetamine-like Substances

Amphetamines (also called speed or uppers) are stimulants that can decrease the appetite and the need for sleep. Sudden death, stroke, and heart attacks have been reported in poeple using this type of medicine. Examples of amphetamines include prescription drugs, such as dextroamphetamine(Dexedrine) and dextroamphetamine combined with amphetamine (Adderall), as well as amphetamines that are illegally manufactured.

Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone that are taken to build muscle and enhance athletic performance. Steroids like testosterone and methyltestosterone may be prescribed if you have certain conditions, like hypogonadism or breast cancer .

When abused, steroids lead to many serious adverse effects, including

Cocaine and Crack

Cocaine and crack (rock crystal form) are illegal drugs that provide immediate euphoric effects. These powerfully addictive drugs can constrict the heart’s blood vessels, making the heart work harder and faster to pump blood. Cocaine and crack can cause heart rhythm problems, heart attack, and stroke.

Club Drugs

Club drugs are illicitly manufactured drugs that were originally used at all night dance clubs. People in a variety of social situations abuse these types of drugs. Examples include:

  • Ecstasy—This drug is a stimulant that can lead to increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
  • Ketamine—Katamine is a veterinary anesthetic, a depressant that can cause increased blood pressure.

Smoking can increase your risk of atherosclerosis and heart attack. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about strategies to quit .

Get Information About Drugs and Possible Interactions

If you take any drugs that have the potential to cause heart damage, talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have. Before taking any new prescription or nonprescription drug, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects and drug interactions. Even if the drug you take does not have the potential to affect your heart when taken by itself, it is possible that it could have adverse effects when taken with another drug, food, or substance.

If you are struggling with a drug addiction, talk to your doctor. There are effective treatments to help you to recover from drug abuse.


American College of Cardiology

American Heart Association


College of Family Physicians Canada

Health Canada


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Cocaine abuse. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated November 9, 2012. Accessed January 17, 2013.

COX-2 inhibitors. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated January 26, 2012. Accessed January 17, 2013.

Dextroamphetamine. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated August 6, 2012. Accessed January 17, 2013.

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Glucose lowering medications for type 2 diabetes. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated January 16, 2013. Accessed January 17, 2013.

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MDMA (Ecstasy). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Available at: . Updated December 2012. Accessed January 17, 2013.

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Neuteufl T, Heher S, Kostner K, et al. Contribution of nicotine to acute endothelial dysfunction in long-term smokers. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2002;39:251-256.

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Testosterone. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated April 11, 2011. Accessed January 17, 2013.

Tobacco use disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated January 9, 2013. Accessed January 17, 2013.

Toxicities of chemotherapeutic agents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated January 14, 2013. Accessed January 17, 2013.

Last reviewed January 2013 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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