The most widely used scheme for the classification of antiarrhythmic drug actions recognizes four classes:
A given drug may have multiple classes of action as indicated by its membrane and electrocardiographic (ECG) effects (Tables 14–2 and 14–3). For example, amiodarone shares all four classes of action. Drugs are usually discussed according to the predominant class of action. Certain antiarrhythmic agents, eg, adenosine and magnesium, do not fit readily into this scheme and are described separately.
Sodium Channel-Blocking Drugs (Class 1)
Drugs with local anesthetic action block sodium channels and reduce the sodium current, INa. They are the oldest group of antiarrhythmic drugs and are still widely used.
Procainamide (Subgroup 1A)
By blocking sodium channels, procainamide slows the upstroke of the action potential, slows conduction, and prolongs the QRS duration of the ECG. The drug also prolongs the APD (a class 3 action) by nonspecific blockade of potassium channels. The drug may be somewhat less effective than quinidine (see below) in suppressing abnormal ectopic pacemaker activity but more effective in blocking sodium channels in depolarized cells.
Procainamide has direct depressant actions on SA and AV nodes, and these actions are only slightly counterbalanced by drug-induced vagal block.
Procainamide has ganglion-blocking properties. This action reduces peripheral vascular resistance and can cause hypotension, particularly with intravenous use. However, in therapeutic concentrations, its peripheral vascular effects are less prominent than those of quinidine. Hypotension is usually associated with excessively rapid procainamide infusion or the presence of severe underlying left ventricular dysfunction.
Procainamide's cardiotoxic effects include excessive action potential prolongation, QT-interval prolongation, and induction of torsades de pointes arrhythmia and syncope. Excessive slowing of conduction can also occur. New arrhythmias can be precipitated.
A troublesome adverse effect of long-term procainamide therapy is a syndrome resembling lupus erythematosus and usually consisting of arthralgia and arthritis. In some patients, pleuritis, pericarditis, or parenchymal pulmonary disease also occurs. Renal lupus is rarely induced by procainamide. During long-term therapy, serologic abnormalities (eg, increased antinuclear antibody titer) occur in nearly all patients, and in the absence of symptoms, these are not an indication to stop drug therapy. Approximately one third of patients receiving long-term procainamide therapy develop these reversible lupus-related symptoms.
Other adverse effects include nausea and diarrhea (in about 10% of cases), rash, fever, hepatitis (< 5%), and agranulocytosis (approximately 0.2%).
Pharmacokinetics & Dosage
Procainamide can be administered safely by intravenous and intramuscular routes and is well absorbed orally. A metabolite (N-acetylprocainamide, NAPA) has class 3 activity. Excessive accumulation of NAPA has been implicated in torsades de pointes during procainamide therapy, especially in patients with renal failure. Some individuals rapidly acetylate procainamide and develop high levels of NAPA. The lupus syndrome appears to be less common in these patients.
Procainamide is eliminated by hepatic metabolism to NAPA and by renal elimination. Its half-life is only 3–4 hours, which necessitates frequent dosing or use of a slow-release formulation (the usual practice). NAPA is eliminated by the kidneys. Thus, procainamide dosage must be reduced in patients with renal failure. The reduced volume of distribution and renal clearance associated with heart failure also require reduction in dosage. The half-life of NAPA is considerably longer than that of procainamide, and it therefore accumulates more slowly. Thus, it is important to measure plasma levels of both procainamide and NAPA, especially in patients with circulatory or renal impairment.
If a rapid procainamide effect is needed, an intravenous loading dose of up to 12 mg/kg can be given at a rate of 0.3 mg/kg/min or less rapidly. This dose is followed by a maintenance dosage of 2–5 mg/min, with careful monitoring of plasma levels. The risk of gastrointestinal (GI) or cardiac toxicity rises at plasma concentrations greater than 8 mcg/mL or NAPA concentrations greater than 20 mcg/mL.
To control ventricular arrhythmias, a total procainamide dosage of 2–5 g/d is usually required. In an occasional patient who accumulates high levels of NAPA, less frequent dosing may be possible. This is also possible in renal disease, where procainamide elimination is slowed.
Procainamide is effective against most atrial and ventricular arrhythmias. However, many clinicians attempt to avoid long-term therapy because of the requirement for frequent dosing and the common occurrence of lupus-related effects. Procainamide is the drug of second or third choice (after lidocaine or amiodarone) in most coronary care units for the treatment of sustained ventricular arrhythmias associated with acute myocardial infarction.
Quinidine has actions similar to those of procainamide: it slows the upstroke of the action potential, slows conduction, and prolongs the QRS duration of the ECG, by blockade of sodium channels. The drug also prolongs the action potential duration by blockade of several potassium channels. Its toxic cardiac effects include excessive QT-interval prolongation and induction of torsades de pointes arrhythmia. Toxic concentrations of quinidine also produce excessive sodium channel blockade with slowed conduction throughout the heart.
Adverse GI effects of diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are observed in one third to one half of patients. A syndrome of headache, dizziness, and tinnitus (cinchonism) is observed at toxic drug concentrations. Idiosyncratic or immunologic reactions, including thrombocytopenia, hepatitis, angioneurotic edema, and fever, are observed rarely.
Pharmacokinetics & Therapeutic Use
Quinidine is readily absorbed from the GI tract and eliminated by hepatic metabolism. It is rarely used because of cardiac and extra-cardiac adverse effects and the availability of better-tolerated antiarrhythmic drugs.
Disopyramide (Subgroup 1a)
The effects of disopyramide are very similar to those of procainamide and quinidine. Its cardiac antimuscarinic effects are even more marked than those of quinidine. Therefore, a drug that slows AV conduction should be administered with disopyramide when treating atrial flutter or fibrillation.
Toxic concentrations of disopyramide can precipitate all of the electrophysiologic disturbances described under quinidine. As a result of its negative inotropic effect, disopyramide may precipitate heart failure de novo or in patients with preexisting depression of left ventricular function. Because of this effect, disopyramide is not used as a first-line antiarrhythmic agent in the USA. It should not be used in patients with heart failure.
Disopyramide's atropine-like activity accounts for most of its symptomatic adverse effects: urinary retention (most often, but not exclusively, in male patients with prostatic hyperplasia), dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, and worsening of preexisting glaucoma. These effects may require discontinuation of the drug.
Pharmacokinetics & Dosage
In the USA, disopyramide is only available for oral use. The typical oral dosage of disopyramide is 150 mg three times a day, but up to 1 g/d has been used. In patients with renal impairment, dosage must be reduced. Because of the danger of precipitating heart failure, loading doses are not recommended.
Although disopyramide has been shown to be effective in a variety of supraventricular arrhythmias, in the USA it is approved only for the treatment of ventricular arrhythmias.
Lidocaine has a low incidence of toxicity and a high degree of effectiveness in arrhythmias associated with acute myocardial infarction. It is used only by the intravenous route.
Lidocaine blocks activated and inactivated sodium channels with rapid kinetics (Figure 14–10); the inactivated state block ensures greater effects on cells with long action potentials such as Purkinje and ventricular cells, compared with atrial cells. The rapid kinetics at normal resting potentials result in recovery from block between action potentials and no effect on conduction. The increased inactivation and slower unbinding kinetics result in the selective depression of conduction in depolarized cells. Little effect is seen on the ECG in normal sinus rhythm.
Computer simulation of the effect of resting membrane potential on the blocking and unblocking of sodium channels by lidocaine as the membrane depolarizes. Upper tracing: Action potentials in a ventricular muscle cell. Lower tracing: Percentage of channels blocked by the drug. An 800 ms time segment is shown. Extra passage of time is indicated by breaks in the traces. Left side: At the normal resting potential of –85 mV, the drug combines with open (activated) and inactivated channels during each action potential, but block is rapidly reversed during diastole because the affinity of the drug for its receptor is so low when the channel recovers to the resting state at –85 mV. Middle: Metabolic injury is simulated, eg, ischemia due to coronary occlusion, that causes gradual depolarization over time. With subsequent action potentials arising from more depolarized potentials, the fraction of channels blocked increases because more channels remain in the inactivated state at less negative potentials (Figure 14–4, left), and the time constant for unblocking during diastole rapidly increases at less negative resting potentials (Figure 14–4, right). Right: Because of marked drug binding, conduction block and loss of excitability in this tissue result; that is, the "sick" (depolarized) tissue is selectively suppressed.
Lidocaine is one of the least cardiotoxic of the currently used sodium channel blockers. Proarrhythmic effects, including SA node arrest, worsening of impaired conduction, and ventricular arrhythmias, are uncommon with lidocaine use. In large doses, especially in patients with preexisting heart failure, lidocaine may cause hypotension—partly by depressing myocardial contractility.
Lidocaine's most common adverse effects—like those of other local anesthetics—are neurologic: paresthesias, tremor, nausea of central origin, lightheadedness, hearing disturbances, slurred speech, and convulsions. These occur most commonly in elderly or otherwise vulnerable patients or when a bolus of the drug is given too rapidly. The effects are dose-related and usually short-lived; seizures respond to intravenous diazepam. In general, if plasma levels above 9 mcg/mL are avoided, lidocaine is well tolerated.
Pharmacokinetics & Dosage
Because of its extensive first-pass hepatic metabolism, only 3% of orally administered lidocaine appears in the plasma. Thus, lidocaine must be given parenterally. Lidocaine has a half-life of 1–2 hours. In adults, a loading dose of 150–200 mg administered over about 15 minutes (as a single infusion or as a series of slow boluses) should be followed by a maintenance infusion of 2–4 mg/min to achieve a therapeutic plasma level of 2–6 mcg/mL. Determination of lidocaine plasma levels is of great value in adjusting the infusion rate. Occasional patients with myocardial infarction or other acute illness require (and tolerate) higher concentrations. This may be due to increased plasma α1-acid glycoprotein, an acute-phase reactant protein that binds lidocaine, making less free drug available to exert its pharmacologic effects.
In patients with heart failure, lidocaine's volume of distribution and total body clearance may both be decreased. Therefore, both loading and maintenance doses should be decreased. Since these effects counterbalance each other, the half-life may not be increased as much as predicted from clearance changes alone. In patients with liver disease, plasma clearance is markedly reduced and the volume of distribution is often increased; the elimination half-life in such cases may be increased threefold or more. In liver disease, the maintenance dose should be decreased, but usual loading doses can be given. Elimination half-life determines the time to steady state. Although steady-state concentrations may be achieved in 8–10 hours in normal patients and patients with heart failure, 24–36 hours may be required in those with liver disease. Drugs that decrease liver blood flow (eg, propranolol, cimetidine) reduce lidocaine clearance and so increase the risk of toxicity unless infusion rates are decreased. With infusions lasting more than 24 hours, clearance falls and plasma concentrations rise. Renal disease has no major effect on lidocaine disposition.
Lidocaine is the agent of choice for termination of ventricular tachycardia and prevention of ventricular fibrillation after cardioversion in the setting of acute ischemia. However, routine prophylactic use of lidocaine in this setting may actually increase total mortality, possibly by increasing the incidence of asystole, and is not the standard of care. Most physicians administer IV lidocaine only to patients with arrhythmias.
Mexiletine is an orally active congener of lidocaine. Its electrophysiologic and antiarrhythmic actions are similar to those of lidocaine. (The anticonvulsant phenytoin [see Chapter 24] also exerts similar electrophysiologic effects and has been used as an antiarrhythmic.) Mexiletine is used in the treatment of ventricular arrhythmias. The elimination half-life is 8–20 hours and permits administration two or three times per day. The usual daily dosage of mexiletine is 600–1200 mg/d. Dose-related adverse effects are seen frequently at therapeutic dosage. These are predominantly neurologic, including tremor, blurred vision, and lethargy. Nausea is also a common effect.
Mexiletine has also shown significant efficacy in relieving chronic pain, especially pain due to diabetic neuropathy and nerve injury. The usual dosage is 450–750 mg/d orally. This application is off label.
Flecainide is a potent blocker of sodium and potassium channels with slow unblocking kinetics. (Note that although it does block certain potassium channels, it does not prolong the action potential or the QT interval.) It is currently used for patients with otherwise normal hearts who have supraventricular arrhythmias. It has no antimuscarinic effects.
Flecainide is very effective in suppressing premature ventricular contractions. However, it may cause severe exacerbation of arrhythmia even when normal doses are administered to patients with preexisting ventricular tachyarrhythmias and those with a previous myocardial infarction and ventricular ectopy. This was dramatically demonstrated in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST), which was terminated prematurely because of a two and one-half-fold increase in mortality rate in the patients receiving flecainide and similar group 1C drugs. Flecainide is well absorbed and has a half-life of approximately 20 hours. Elimination is both by hepatic metabolism and by the kidney. The usual dosage of flecainide is 100–200 mg twice a day.
Propafenone (Subgroup 1C)
Propafenone has some structural similarities to propranolol and possesses weak β-blocking activity. Its spectrum of action is very similar to that of quinidine, but it does not prolong the action potential. Its sodium channel-blocking kinetics are similar to that of flecainide. Propafenone is metabolized in the liver, with an average half-life of 5–7 hours. The usual daily dosage of propafenone is 450–900 mg in three divided doses. The drug is used primarily for supraventricular arrhythmias. The most common adverse effects are a metallic taste and constipation; arrhythmia exacerbation can also occur.
Moricizine is an antiarrhythmic phenothiazine derivative that was used for treatment of ventricular arrhythmias. It is a relatively potent sodium channel blocker that does not prolong action potential duration. Moricizine has been withdrawn from the US market.
Beta-Adrenoceptor–Blocking Drugs (Class 2)
Propranolol and similar drugs have antiarrhythmic properties by virtue of their β-receptor–blocking action and direct membrane effects. As described in Chapter 10, some of these drugs have selectivity for cardiac β1 receptors, some have intrinsic sympathomimetic activity, some have marked direct membrane effects, and some prolong the cardiac action potential. The relative contributions of the β-blocking and direct membrane effects to the antiarrhythmic effects of these drugs are not fully known. Although β blockers are fairly well tolerated, their efficacy for suppression of ventricular ectopic depolarizations is lower than that of sodium channel blockers. However, there is good evidence that these agents can prevent recurrent infarction and sudden death in patients recovering from acute myocardial infarction (see Chapter 10).
Esmolol is a short-acting β blocker used primarily as an antiarrhythmic drug for intraoperative and other acute arrhythmias. See Chapter 10 for more information. Sotalol is a nonselective β-blocking drug that prolongs the action potential (class 3 action).
Drugs that Prolong Effective Refractory Period by Prolonging the Action Potential (Class 3)
These drugs prolong action potentials, usually by blocking potassium channels in cardiac muscle or by enhancing inward current, eg, through sodium channels. Action potential prolongation by most of these drugs often exhibits the undesirable property of "reverse use-dependence": action potential prolongation is least marked at fast rates (where it is desirable) and most marked at slow rates, where it can contribute to the risk of torsades de pointes.
Although most drugs in the class evoke QT prolongation, there is considerable variability among drugs in their proarrhythmic tendency to cause torsades de pointes despite significant QT-interval prolongation. Recent studies suggest that excessive QT prolongation alone may not be the best predictor of drug-induced torsades de pointes. Other important factors in addition to QT prolongation include action potential stability and development of a triangular shape (triangulation), reverse use-dependence, and dispersion of repolarization.
In the USA, amiodarone is approved for oral and intravenous use to treat serious ventricular arrhythmias. However, the drug is also highly effective for the treatment of supraventricular arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation. As a result of its broad spectrum of anti-arrhythmic action, it is very extensively used for a wide variety of arrhythmias. Amiodarone has unusual pharmacokinetics and important extracardiac adverse effects. Dronedarone, an analog that lacks iodine atoms, recently received Food and Drug Administration approval for the treatment of atrial flutter and fibrillation. Celivarone is another noniodinated benzofuran derivative similar to dronedarone that is currently undergoing clinical trials for the prevention of ventricular tachycardia recurrence.
Amiodarone markedly prolongs the action potential duration (and the QT interval on the ECG) by blockade of IKr. During chronic administration, IKs is also blocked. The action potential duration is prolonged uniformly over a wide range of heart rates; that is, the drug does not have reverse use-dependent action. In spite of its present classification as a class 3 agent, amiodarone also significantly blocks inactivated sodium channels. Its action potential-prolonging action reinforces this effect. Amiodarone also has weak adrenergic and calcium channel-blocking actions. Consequences of these actions include slowing of the heart rate and AV node conduction. The broad spectrum of actions may account for its relatively high efficacy and its low incidence of torsades de pointes despite significant QT-interval prolongation.
Amiodarone causes peripheral vasodilation. This action is prominent after intravenous administration and may be related to the action of the vehicle.
Amiodarone may produce symptomatic bradycardia and heart block in patients with preexisting sinus or AV node disease. The drug accumulates in many tissues, including the heart (10–50 times more so than in plasma), lung, liver, and skin, and is concentrated in tears. Dose-related pulmonary toxicity is the most important adverse effect. Even on a low dose of 200 mg/d or less, fatal pulmonary fibrosis may be observed in 1% of patients. Abnormal liver function tests and hypersensitivity hepatitis may develop during amiodarone treatment and liver function tests should be monitored regularly. The skin deposits result in a photodermatitis and a gray-blue skin discoloration in sun-exposed areas, eg, the malar regions. After a few weeks of treatment, asymptomatic corneal microdeposits are present in virtually all patients treated with amiodarone. Halos develop in the peripheral visual fields of some patients. Drug discontinuation is usually not required. Rarely, an optic neuritis may progress to blindness.
Amiodarone blocks the peripheral conversion of thyroxine (T4) to triiodothyronine (T3). It is also a potential source of large amounts of inorganic iodine. Amiodarone may result in hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Thyroid function should be evaluated before initiating treatment and should be monitored periodically. Because effects have been described in virtually every organ system, amiodarone treatment should be reevaluated whenever new symptoms develop in a patient, including arrhythmia aggravation.
Amiodarone is variably absorbed with a bioavailability of 35–65%. It undergoes hepatic metabolism, and the major metabolite, desethylamiodarone, is bioactive. The elimination half-life is complex, with a rapid component of 3–10 days (50% of the drug) and a slower component of several weeks. After discontinuation of the drug, effects are maintained for 1–3 months. Measurable tissue levels may be observed up to 1 year after discontinuation. A total loading dose of 10 g is usually achieved with 0.8–1.2 g daily doses. The maintenance dose is 200–400 mg daily. Pharmacologic effects may be achieved rapidly by intravenous loading. QT-prolonging effect is modest with this route of administration, whereas bradycardia and AV block may be significant.
Amiodarone has many important drug interactions, and all medications should be reviewed when the drug is initiated and when the dose is adjusted. Amiodarone is a substrate for liver cytochrome CYP3A4, and its levels are increased by drugs that inhibit this enzyme, eg, the histamine H2 blocker cimetidine. Drugs that induce CYP3A4, eg, rifampin, decrease amiodarone concentration when coadministered. Amiodarone inhibits several cytochrome P450 enzymes and may result in high levels of many drugs, including statins, digoxin, and warfarin. The dose of warfarin should be reduced by one third to one half following initiation of amiodarone, and prothrombin times should be closely monitored.
Low doses (100–200 mg/d) of amiodarone are effective in maintaining normal sinus rhythm in patients with atrial fibrillation. The drug is effective in the prevention of recurrent ventricular tachycardia. It is not associated with an increase in mortality in patients with coronary artery disease or heart failure. In many centers, the implanted cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) has succeeded drug therapy as the primary treatment modality for ventricular tachycardia, but amiodarone may be used for ventricular tachycardia as adjuvant therapy to decrease the frequency of uncomfortable cardioverter defibrillator discharges. The drug increases the pacing and defibrillation threshold and these devices require retesting after a maintenance dose has been achieved.
Dronedarone is a structural analog of amiodarone in which the iodine atoms have been removed from the phenyl ring and a methanesulfonyl group added to the benzofuran ring. The design was intended to eliminate action of the parent drug on thyroxine metabolism and to modify the half-life of the drug. No thyroid dysfunction or pulmonary toxicity has been reported in short-term studies. However, liver toxicity, including two severe cases requiring liver transplantation, has been reported. Like amiodarone, dronedarone has multichannel actions, including blocking IKr, IKs, ICa, and INa. It also has β-adrenergic–blocking action. The drug has a half-life of 24 hours and can be administered twice daily at a fixed dose of 400 mg. Dronedarone absorption increases twofold to threefold when taken with food, and this information should be communicated to patients as a part of the dosing instructions. Dronedarone elimination is primarily non-renal. However, it inhibits tubular secretion of creatinine, resulting in a 10–20% increase in serum creatinine. However, because glomerular filtration rate is unchanged, no adjustments are required. Dronedarone is both a substrate and an inhibitor of CY3A4 and should not be co-administered with potent inhibitors of this enzyme, such as the azole and similar antifungal agents, and protease inhibitors.
Dronedarone restores sinus rhythm in a small percentage of patients (< 15%) with atrial fibrillation. It produces a 10- to 15-bpm reduction of the ventricular rate compared to placebo. Dronedarone doubled the interval between episodes of atrial fibrillation recurrence in patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. Initial studies suggested a reduction in mortality or hospitalization in patients with atrial fibrillation. However, a study of dronedarone's effects in permanent atrial fibrillation was terminated in 2011 because of increased risk of death, stroke, and heart failure. Similarly, a trial of dronedarone in advanced heart failure was terminated prematurely because of an increase in mortality. The drug carries a "black box" warning against its use in acute decompensated or advanced (class IV) heart failure.
The limited success of highly specific drugs that target single ion channels and the efficacy of multi-ion channel blockers such as amiodarone have shifted the emphasis in antiarrhythmic drug development to the latter class of drugs. Vernakalant is a multi-ion channel blocker that was developed for the treatment of atrial fibrillation.
Vernakalant prolongs the atrial effective refractory period and slows conduction over the AV node. Ventricular effective refractory period is unchanged. In the maximal clinical dose of 1800 mg/day, vernakalant does not change the QT interval on the ECG. Vernakalant blocks IKur, IACh, and Ito. These currents play key roles in atrial repolarization and their block accounts for the prolongation of the atrial effective refractory period. The drug is a less potent blocker of IKr and, as a result, produces less APD prolongation in the ventricle; that is, the APD-prolonging effect is relatively atrium specific. Vernakalant also produces use-dependent block of the sodium channel. Recovery from block is fast, such that significant blockade is observed only at fast rates or at low membrane potentials. In the therapeutic concentration range, vernakalant has no effect on heart rate.
Adverse effects of vernakalant include dysgeusia (disturbance of taste), sneezing, paresthesia, cough, and hypotension.
Pharmacokinetics & Therapeutic Uses
Pharmacokinetic data for vernakalant are limited. After IV administration, the drug is metabolized in the liver by CYP2D6 with a half-life of 2 hours. However, on an oral regimen of 900 mg twice daily, a sustained blood concentration was observed over a 12-hour interval. Clinical trials with the oral drug have used a twice-daily dosing regimen.
Intravenous vernakalant is effective in converting recent-onset atrial fibrillation to normal sinus rhythm in 50% of patients. Final approval for this purpose is pending. The drug is undergoing clinical trials for maintenance of normal sinus rhythm in patients with paroxysmal or persistent atrial fibrillation.
Sotalol has both β-adrenergic receptor-blocking (class 2) and action potential-prolonging (class 3) actions. The drug is formulated as a racemic mixture of d- and l-sotalol. All the β-adrenergic–blocking activity resides in the l-isomer; the d- and l-isomers share action potential prolonging actions. Beta-adrenergic–blocking action is not cardioselective and is maximal at doses below those required for action potential prolongation.
Sotalol is well absorbed orally with bioavailability of approximately 100%. It is not metabolized in the liver and is not bound to plasma proteins. Excretion is predominantly by the kidneys in the unchanged form with a half-life of approximately 12 hours. Because of its relatively simple pharmacokinetics, solatol exhibits few direct drug interactions. Its most significant cardiac adverse effect is an extension of its pharmacologic action: a dose-related incidence of torsades de pointes that approaches 6% at the highest recommended daily dose. Patients with overt heart failure may experience further depression of left ventricular function during treatment with sotalol.
Sotalol is approved for the treatment of life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias and the maintenance of sinus rhythm in patients with atrial fibrillation. It is also approved for treatment of supraventricular and ventricular arrhythmias in the pediatric age group. Sotalol decreases the threshold for cardiac defibrillation.
Dofetilide has class 3 action potential prolonging action. This action is effected by a dose-dependent blockade of the rapid component of the delayed rectifier potassium current (IKr) and the blockade of IKr increases in hypokalemia. Dofetilide produces no relevant blockade of the other potassium channels or the sodium channel. Because of the slow rate of recovery from blockade, the extent of blockade shows little dependence on stimulation frequency. However, dofetilide does show less action potential prolongation at rapid rates because of the increased importance of other potassium channels such as IKs at higher frequencies.
Dofetilide is 100% bioavailable. Verapamil increases peak plasma dofetilide concentration by increasing intestinal blood flow. Eighty percent of an oral dose is eliminated unchanged by the kidneys; the remainder is eliminated in the urine as inactive metabolites. Inhibitors of the renal cation secretion mechanism, eg, cimetidine, prolong the half-life of dofetilide. Since the QT-prolonging effects and risks of ventricular proarrhythmia are directly related to plasma concentration, dofetilide dosage must be based on the estimated creatinine clearance. Treatment with dofetilide should be initiated in hospital after baseline measurement of the rate-corrected QT interval (QTc) and serum electrolytes. A baseline QTc of > 450 ms (500 ms in the presence of an intraventricular conduction delay), bradycardia of < 50 bpm, and hypokalemia are relative contraindications to its use.
Dofetilide is approved for the maintenance of normal sinus rhythm in patients with atrial fibrillation. It is also effective in restoring normal sinus rhythm in patients with atrial fibrillation.
Ibutilide, like dofetilide, slows cardiac depolarization by blockade of the rapid component (IKr) of the delayed rectifier potassium current. Activation of slow inward sodium current has also been suggested as an additional mechanism of action potential prolongation. After intravenous administration, ibutilide is rapidly cleared by hepatic metabolism. The metabolites are excreted by the kidney. The elimination half-life averages 6 hours.
Intravenous ibutilide is used for the acute conversion of atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation to normal sinus rhythm. The drug is more effective in atrial flutter than atrial fibrillation, with a mean time to termination of 20 minutes. The most important adverse effect is excessive QT-interval prolongation and torsades de pointes. Patients require continuous ECG monitoring for 4 hours after ibutilide infusion or until QTc returns to baseline.
Calcium Channel-Blocking Drugs (Class 4)
These drugs, of which verapamil is the prototype, were first introduced as antianginal agents and are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 12. Verapamil and diltiazem also have antiarrhythmic effects. The dihydropyridines (eg, nifedipine) do not share anti-arrhythmic efficacy and may precipitate arrhythmias.
Verapamil blocks both activated and inactivated L-type calcium channels. Thus, its effect is more marked in tissues that fire frequently, those that are less completely polarized at rest, and those in which activation depends exclusively on the calcium current, such as the SA and AV nodes. AV nodal conduction time and effective refractory period are consistently prolonged by therapeutic concentrations. Verapamil usually slows the SA node by its direct action, but its hypotensive action may occasionally result in a small reflex increase of SA rate.
Verapamil can suppress both early and delayed afterdepolarizations and may antagonize slow responses arising in severely depolarized tissue.
Verapamil causes peripheral vasodilation, which may be beneficial in hypertension and peripheral vasospastic disorders. Its effects on smooth muscle produce a number of extracardiac effects (see Chapter 12).
Verapamil's cardiotoxic effects are dose-related and usually avoidable. A common error has been to administer intravenous verapamil to a patient with ventricular tachycardia misdiagnosed as supraventricular tachycardia. In this setting, hypotension and ventricular fibrillation can occur. Verapamil's negative inotropic effects may limit its clinical usefulness in diseased hearts (see Chapter 12). Verapamil can induce AV block when used in large doses or in patients with AV nodal disease. This block can be treated with atropine and β-receptor stimulants.
Adverse extracardiac effects include constipation, lassitude, nervousness, and peripheral edema.
Pharmacokinetics & Dosage
The half-life of verapamil is approximately 7 hours. It is extensively metabolized by the liver; after oral administration, its bioavailability is only about 20%. Therefore, verapamil must be administered with caution in patients with hepatic dysfunction or impaired hepatic perfusion.
In adult patients without heart failure or SA or AV nodal disease, parenteral verapamil can be used to terminate supraventricular tachycardia, although adenosine is the agent of first choice. Verapamil dosage is an initial bolus of 5 mg administered over 2–5 minutes, followed a few minutes later by a second 5 mg bolus if needed. Thereafter, doses of 5–10 mg can be administered every 4–6 hours, or a constant infusion of 0.4 mcg/kg/min may be used.
Effective oral dosages are higher than intravenous dosage because of first-pass metabolism and range from 120 mg to 640 mg daily, divided into three or four doses.
Supraventricular tachycardia is the major arrhythmia indication for verapamil. Adenosine or verapamil are preferred over older treatments (propranolol, digoxin, edrophonium, and vasoconstrictor agents) and cardioversion for termination. Verapamil can also reduce the ventricular rate in atrial fibrillation and flutter. It only rarely converts atrial flutter and fibrillation to sinus rhythm. Verapamil is occasionally useful in ventricular arrhythmias. However, intravenous verapamil in a patient with sustained ventricular tachycardia can cause hemodynamic collapse.
Diltiazem appears to be similar in efficacy to verapamil in the management of supraventricular arrhythmias, including rate control in atrial fibrillation. An intravenous form of diltiazem is available for the latter indication and causes hypotension or bradyarrhythmias relatively infrequently.
Miscellaneous Antiarrhythmic Agents
Certain agents used for the treatment of arrhythmias do not fit the conventional class 1–4 organization. These include digitalis (discussed in Chapter 13), adenosine, magnesium, and potassium. It is also becoming clear that certain nonantiarrhythmic drugs, such as drugs acting on the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, fish oil, and statins, can reduce recurrence of tachycardias and fibrillation in patients with coronary heart disease or congestive heart failure.
Adenosine is a nucleoside that occurs naturally throughout the body. Its half-life in the blood is less than 10 seconds. Its mechanism of action involves activation of an inward rectifier K+ current and inhibition of calcium current. The results of these actions are marked hyperpolarization and suppression of calcium-dependent action potentials. When given as a bolus dose, adenosine directly inhibits AV nodal conduction and increases the AV nodal refractory period but has lesser effects on the SA node. Adenosine is currently the drug of choice for prompt conversion of paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia to sinus rhythm because of its high efficacy (90–95%) and very short duration of action. It is usually given in a bolus dose of 6 mg followed, if necessary, by a dose of 12 mg. An uncommon variant of ventricular tachycardia is adenosine-sensitive. The drug is less effective in the presence of adenosine receptor blockers such as theophylline or caffeine, and its effects are potentiated by adenosine uptake inhibitors such as dipyridamole.
Adenosine causes flushing in about 20% of patients and shortness of breath or chest burning (perhaps related to bronchospasm) in over 10%. Induction of high-grade AV block may occur but is very short-lived. Atrial fibrillation may occur. Less common toxicities include headache, hypotension, nausea, and paresthesias.
Originally used for patients with digitalis-induced arrhythmias who were hypomagnesemic, magnesium infusion has been found to have antiarrhythmic effects in some patients with normal serum magnesium levels. The mechanisms of these effects are not known, but magnesium is recognized to influence Na+/K+-ATPase, sodium channels, certain potassium channels, and calcium channels. Magnesium therapy appears to be indicated in patients with digitalis-induced arrhythmias if hypomagnesemia is present; it is also indicated in some patients with torsades de pointes even if serum magnesium is normal. The usual dosage is 1 g (as sulfate) given intravenously over 20 minutes and repeated once if necessary. A full understanding of the action and indications for the use of magnesium as an antiarrhythmic drug awaits further investigation.
The significance of the potassium ion concentrations inside and outside the cardiac cell membrane was discussed earlier in this chapter. The effects of increasing serum K+ can be summarized as (1) a resting potential depolarizing action and (2) a membrane potential stabilizing action, the latter caused by increased potassium permeability. Hypokalemia results in an increased risk of early and delayed afterdepolarizations, and ectopic pacemaker activity, especially in the presence of digitalis. Hyperkalemia depresses ectopic pacemakers (severe hyperkalemia is required to suppress the SA node) and slows conduction. Because both insufficient and excess potassium is potentially arrhythmogenic, potassium therapy is directed toward normalizing potassium gradients and pools in the body.