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Drugs That May Lead to Heart Damage

Image for drugs and heart problems article If you are taking medication 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 medications and illicit drugs that may cause heart problems. If you have concerns about the specific medications that you are taking, talk to your doctor.

Prescription Medications


Examples of medications 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, leading to 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 medications in this class include:

  • Clozapine
  • Chlorpromazine
  • Fluphenazine
  • Haloperidol
  • Risperidone

Some antipsychotic drugs may increase the risk of cardiovascular problems like abnormal heart rhythms, cardiac arrest, or stroke.

Before you use these medications, 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:

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

  • Have been taking the medication 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. In general, thiazolidinediones are associated with an increased risk of heart attack and heart failure. One drug in particular is rosiglitazone. Rosiglitazone may be taken alone or in combination with other medications.

Recreational and Street Drugs

Amphetamines and Amphetamine-like Substances

Amphetamines (also called speed or uppers when used illegally) are stimulants that can decrease the appetite and need for sleep. They are most commonly used to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Sudden death, stroke, and heart attacks have been reported in poeple using this type of medication. Examples of prescription drugs using amphetamines include dextroamphetamine, dextroamphetamine combined with amphetamine, or methyphenidate. Many amphetamines are also 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 or Molly—These stimulants 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, high blood pressure, stroke, 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 Heart Association

  • US Food and Drug Administration

  • Health Canada

  • The College of Family Physicians of Canada

  • Ibuprofen. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated July 22, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.

  • Antipsychotics. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 3, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.

  • Cocaine abuse. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated December 15, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.

  • COX-2 inhibitors. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated February 27, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.

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

  • DrugFacts: Anabolic steroids. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Available at: Updated July 2012. Accessed January 16, 2015.

  • DrugFacts: Club drugs (GHB, ketamine, and rohypnol). National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Available at: Updated December 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.

  • Gislason GH, Jacobsen S, et al. Risk of death or reinfarction associated with the use of selective cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors and nonselective nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs after acute myocardial infarction. Circulation. 2006;113:2906-2913.

  • Glucose lowering medications for type 2 diabetes. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated December 18, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.

  • Jensen BV. Cardiotoxic consequences of anthracycline-containing therapy in patients with breast cancer. Semin Oncol. 2006;33:S15-S21.

  • Koro CE, Bowlin SJ, et al. Antidiabetic therapy and the risk of heart failure in type 2 diabetic patients: An independent effect or confounding by indication. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2005;14:697-703.

  • Loke Y, Derry S, et al. Appetite suppressants and valvular heart disease—a systematic review. BMC Clin Pharmacol. 2002;2:6.

  • MDMA (ecstasy or Molly). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Available at: Updated December 2013. Accessed January 16, 2015.

  • Mukherjee D, Nissen SE, et al. Risk of cardiovascular events associated with selective COX-2 inhibitors. JAMA. 2001;286:954-959.

  • Neuteufl T, Heher S, et al. Contribution of nicotine to acute endothelial dysfunction in long-term smokers. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2002;39:251-256.

  • Taubert KA. Cardiology patient pages. Can patients with cardiovascular disease take nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs? Circulation. 2008;117(17):e322-e324.

  • Testosterone. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated June 23, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.

  • Tobacco use. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 2, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.

  • Toxicities of chemotherapeutic agents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 18, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.