Amiodarone — waxed and waned and waxed again

S A Doggrell
Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy 2001, 2 (11): 1877-90
Amiodarone has been used as an anti-arrhythmic drug since the 1970s and has an established role in the treatment of ventricular tachyarrhythmias. Although considered to be a class III anti-arrhythmic, amiodarone also has class I, II and IV actions, which gives it a unique pharmacological and anti-arrhythmic profile. Amiodarone is a structural analogue of thyroid hormone and some of its anti-arrhythmic properties and toxicity may be attributable to interactions with nuclear thyroid hormone receptors. The lipid solubility of amiodarone gives it an exceptionally long half-life. Oral amiodarone takes days to work in ventricular tachyarrhythmias, but iv. amiodarone has immediate effect and can be used in life threatening ventricular arrhythmias. Intravenous amiodarone administered after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest due to ventricular fibrillation improves survival to hospital admission. Many survivors of myocardial infarction (MI) die during the subsequent year, probably due to ventricular arrhythmia. Amiodarone reduces sudden death after MI and this benefit is predominantly observed in patients with preserved cardiac function. Sudden cardiac death, predominantly due to ventricular arrhythmias, is also commonly seen in patients with heart failure. The Grupo de Estudio de la Sobrevida en lsuficiencia Cardiaca en Argentina (GESICA) and Estudio Piloto Argentino de Muerte Subita y Amiodarona (EPAMSA) trials showed survival benefit of amiodarone in heart failure, whereas Congestive Heart Failure-Survival Trial of Anti-arrhythmic Therapy (CHF-STAT) did not. Subsequent meta-analysis established a survival benefit of amiodarone in heart failure. Implanted Cardioverter Def ibrillators (ICDs) also give survival benefit to patients at risk of sudden death. In patients with a history of ventricular fibrillation or haemodynamically-compromising ventricular tachycardia, ICDs have been shown to be superior to anti-arrhythmic drugs, principally amiodarone. Further analysis has been undertaken to ascertain which patients are most likely to benefit from ICDs, as these are more expensive than treatment with amiodarone. Patients with severely depressed ejection fractions should be the first to be considered for ICDs. A new indication for amiodarone is atrial fibrillation or flutter. Amiodarone is effective in chronic and recent onset atrial fibrillation and orally or iv. for atrial fibrillation after heart surgery. In atrial fibrillation amiodarone is more than or equi-effective with flecainide, quinidine, racemic sotalol, propafenone and diltiazem and therefore should be considered for first line therapy. Amiodarone is also safe and effective in controlling refractory tachyarrhythmias in infants and is safe after cardiac surgery.

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