Significance and control of cardiac arrhythmias in patients with congestive cardiac failure

Bramah N Singh
Heart Failure Reviews 2002, 7 (3): 285-300
A wide spectrum of ventricular and supraventricular tachyarrhythmias occurs in the setting of congestive cardiac failure. However, the two most clinically significant are atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation. In the past there has been much emphasis on premature ventricular contractions and more recently, on nonsustained ventricular tachycardia. For the most part, these arrhythmias are asymptomatic in heart failure. They are markers of sudden arrhythmic death but their suppression by antiarrhythmic drugs have not resulted in a reduction of total mortality. Two approaches have been used to this end. The first is the use of beta-adrenergic blocking drugs and antiarrhythmic agents such as amiodarone. Beta-blockers have been shown to significantly reduce sudden death as well as total mortality, while the effects of amiodarone have been less decisive. The prospective role of the implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is undergoing critical evaluation in patients with cardiac failure at high risk for sudden death. The elective role of the ICD is well established as first-line therapy in patients with heart failure resuscitated from sudden death and in those with sustained ventricular tachycardia in conjunction with conventional therapies for cardiac decompensation. The prevalence of atrial fibrillation rises as a function of severity of cardiac failure, but it is also in known that persistent atrial fibrillation with an uncontrolled ventricular response may induce heart failure. Controlled ventricular response may prevent congestive heart failure and improve left ventricular function. The two most common causes of atrial fibrillation in cardiac failure in Europe and America are ischemic heart disease and hypertension, while mitral valve disease remains the prevalent cause elsewhere. The choice of antiarrhythmic drugs for maintaining sinus rhythm is critical in the prevention of heart failure aggravation and proarrhythmic reactions of antiarrhythmic drugs. Amiodarone and dofetilide are most widely used in this context.

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