Using the right drug: a treatment algorithm for regular supraventricular tachycardias

S Lévy, P Ricard
European Heart Journal 1997, 18 Suppl C: C27-32
Despite the recent advent of and the successful results from catheter ablation, pharmacological therapy is still used by most clinicians as the first line therapy in patients with regular supraventricular tachycardias. Before prescribing an antiarrhythmic agent, documentation of the arrhythmia using a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) is necessary to identify the type of tachycardia. The ECG diagnosis is based on the presence and polarity of the P wave, the P to QRS relationship, the presence of QRS alternation and the effect of bundle branch block on tachycardia rate. Most regular supraventricular tachycardias use the atrioventricular node either passively, as in atrial tachycardias or flutter, or actively, as paroxysmal junctional tachycardias. The Sicilian Gambit approach attempted to introduce some rationale in the choice of an antiarrhythmic agent, taking into account tachycardia mechanism, by defining the critical components of the tachycardia and the vulnerable parameter, i.e. the component that may readily be affected by an appropriate antiarrhythmic agent. For this approach, an electrophysiological study is particularly useful. The most common regular paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardias include atrioventricular nodal re-entrant tachycardias and atrioventricular re-entrant tachycardias which use an overt or concealed accessory atrioventricular connection (Kent bundle) or atriofascicular connection (Mahaim). For acute termination of paroxysmal junctional tachycardia, intravenous adenosine is the drug of choice. For the prevention of the tachycardia attacks in atrioventricular nodal re-entrant tachycardia, the agents with a depressive effect on the antegrade slow pathway, such as calcium channel blockers or beta-blockers, are likely to be effective. If they fail, sodium channel blockers (propafenone or flecainide) may be indicated. In tachycardias involving accessory connections, agents that affect fast channel dependent tissue (propafenone, flecainide, cibenzoline, disopyramide or hydroquinidine) are effective. Potassium current blockers, such as sotalol or amiodarone, represent an alternative therapy. In atrial tachycardias, the use of propafenone, flecainide or sotalol constitute a logical choice. In drug-resistant cases, amiodarone is the most potent agent. Radiofrequency ablation of the slow atrioventricular nodal pathway, of an accessory connection or of an atrial focus, is indicated in drug-resistant or drug-intolerant patients and is increasingly offered as an alternative therapy.

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