It’s no secret that the opioid crisis has gotten out of hand in recent years. This, in and of itself, is disconcerting, and there’s a laundry list of frightening side-effects that come along with opiate use, including overdose, addiction, mental instability and the list goes on. There’s a lesser known side-effect, however, that deserves some real attention because it’s beginning to take a pretty serious toll on some people’s lives. This side-effect is heart infection (not to be confused with heart disease, by the way), and it’s killing people at an alarming rate according to a recent Health Day News report.

The condition is specifically called infective endocarditis and it occurs when harmful bacteria builds up inside the lining of the heart, or on the heart valves themselves. It has the potential to destroy the actual valves, spread throughout the body, and, yes, it’s life-threatening. Endocarditis is often associated with heart defects or abnormal valves, but it can also be formed by intravenous drug use, particularly when unsanitary needles are used to inject the drugs. Most of the drug-related cases of the infection are seen in heroin users, but the type of drug is pretty irrelevant. Heroin just happens to be the most commonly injected, hence the relatively high number of heroin-related heart infection cases.

Unfortunately, heart infection is very difficult to treat, and it greatly increases an individual’s risk of death – as mentioned, it’s severely life threatening. Patients with drug-related endocarditis are often uninsured as well which only compounds the problem as it can put hospitals at a loss. If healthcare professionals aren’t willing to take on these cases pro bono, the risk of death increases even more.

Clinicians in recent years have noticed a pretty staggering increase in the number of opioid addicted young people cycling in and out of the healthcare system with heart infection. Early symptoms of the condition tend to be non-existent, so the infection typically doesn’t respond well to treatment, as it has often developed quite a bit before patients are aware of it. The one year mortality rate sits at about 30% which is worse than most cancers.

Some of the symptoms associated with this particular type of heart infection include things like shortness of breath, fatigue, lightheadedness and fainting, heart palpitations, abdominal or leg swelling, chest pain or pressure, tender red spots under the fingernails, small purple or red spots on the skin and whites of eyes or inside the mouth, fever, and blood in the urine. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, particularly if you’re an intravenous drug user, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as humanly possible. There are treatments out there, and the sooner you catch the condition, the better your chances are of overcoming it.

This post isn’t meant as a scare tactic, but it is meant to raise awareness in the face of something that’s becoming its own epidemic on top of the opioid crisis itself. The statistics are sobering and no fun to learn about, but it’s important to know the risks associated with intravenous drug use, particularly lesser-known risks like endocarditis.

Also, healthcare professionals don’t typically have much tolerance for people entering into the system with drug-related health issues. A visit to the ER by a regular heroin user for endocarditis, for example, is likely not going to garner much sympathy, which makes the condition that much more unbearable for those suffering with it.

The long and short of this is that addiction, in general, can quite literally kill us. Of course, this is only in very extreme cases, but it’s good to know the facts, and it’s one of the many reasons why seeking out treatment for addiction is so critically important. Spreading awareness about conditions like heart infection is crucial. We also know that kicking a habit like heroin is probably one of the most difficult things a person will do in his or her lifetime, and one should never have to do it alone.

Kembali Recovery Center can Help

If you or a loved one is battling addiction or any other compulsive behaviors, and are having a difficult time kicking these habits, Kembali is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our 28-day treatment program, our Recovery Beyond Program, or, simply, to get answers about your addiction-related questions. All communications are kept completely confidential. 

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