[Antiarrhythmic therapy in patients with heart failure]

T S Faber, M Zehender
Therapeutische Umschau. Revue Thérapeutique 2000, 57 (5): 324-32
In patients with severe chronic heart failure, many deaths are sudden due to life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias. Supraventricular arrhythmias such as paroxysmal or chronic atrial fibrillation may also cause serious complications in those patients due to acute loss of atrial contraction, pump failure during rapid ventricular response and embolic events. Two therapeutic strategies are currently available for therapy and prevention of malignant ventricular arrhythmias and subsequent sudden arrhythmic death: antiarrhythmic drug therapy and implantable defibrillators. However, selection of the most beneficial strategy for the individual patient to reduce the risk of sudden death remains a major challenge in cardiology. Betablockers exert a favorable antiarrhythmic action without increasing proarrhythmia, thus betablockers may serve as a basic medication in patients at risk for sudden death. However, the general use of antiarrhythmic drug therapy for symptomatic ventricular arrhythmias is not recommended, as these drugs have been shown to increase mortality in patients with severe congestive heart failure due to proarrhythmic or negative inotropic effects (e.g. class Ia antiarrhythmics). Even class III antiarrhythmic drugs such as amiodarone, which has been studied sufficiently in patients with left ventricular dysfunction, is not effective enough for significant reduction of cardiac mortality in patients with symptomatic ventricular arrhythmias and depressed ventricular function (e.g. EMIAT, CAMIAT). But as a positive result of available studies, amiodarone does not increase mortality in those patients. Dofetilide has also not been shown to prolong life significantly by suppressing malignant ventricular arrhythmias (DIAMOND-Study). In patients with symptomatic ventricular arrhythmias or aborted sudden death, ICD therapy has been proven to be superior to antiarrhythmic drug therapy in cardiac mortality reduction as a secondary prevention strategy (e.g. AVID, CASH, CIDS). For primary prevention of sudden arrhythmic death in high risk patients, 2 studies (MADIT, MUSST) have already demonstrated favorable results, decreasing mortality by ICD therapy in selected patient populations with partly-reduced ventricular function and unsustained but inducible ventricular tachycardias. This topic is, however, undergoing further evaluation by ongoing trials (e.g. MADIT II, SCD-HeFT). From available data, antiarrhythmic drug therapy in high risk patients is not justified on a routine basis, whereas ICD therapy as a secondary and perhaps primary prevention strategy will significantly reduce cardiac mortality in patients with severe heart failure. Sotalol, a class III antiarrhythmic agent, has recently been shown to reduce ICD-shock delivery which indicates that concomitant drug therapy in patients with an ICD device already implanted may be beneficial in terms of reducing ICD discharges due to ventricular and supraventricular tachycardias. In patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure, restitution of sinus rhythm is the primary therapeutic goal which can be safely achieved by amiodarone and dofetilide (DIAMOND). In the latter, continuous monitoring of the patient is mandatory because of increased risk of torsade de pointes arrhythmias during the first days of drug administration. In patients with chronic atrial fibrillation rate control and anticoagulation with warfarin is the primary therapeutic option, which can be achieved with either drug treatment (Digoxin, betablockers, amiodarone) or by His bundle ablation with subsequent pacemaker insertion.

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