Antiarrhythmic agentsare a group of pharmaceuticals that are used to suppress fast rhythms of the heart (cardiac arrhythmias), such as atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, ventricular tachycardia, and ventricular fibrillation.
While the use of antiarrhythmic agents to suppress atrial arrhythmias (atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter) is still in practice, it is unclear whether suppression of atrial arrhythmias will prolong life.
In the past, it was believed that suppression of the potentially dangerous ventricular arrhythmias, ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation would prolong life, but it was found in large clinical trials that suppression of these arrhythmias would paradoxically increase mortality, which may happen due to the increased workload these drugs place on the heart.
In individuals with atrial fibrillation, antiarrhythmics are still used to suppress arrhythmias. This is often done to relieve the symptoms that may be associated with the loss of the atrial component to ventricular filling (atrial kick) that is due to atrial fibrillation or flutter.
In individuals with ventricular arrhythmias, antiarrhythmic agents are often still in use to suppress arrhythmias. In this case, the patient may have frequent arrhythmic events or be at high risk for ventricular arrhythmias. Antiarrhythmic agents may be considered the first-line therapy in the prevention of sudden death in certain forms of structural heart disease, and failure of these agents to suppress arrhythmias may lead to implantation of an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD).
The use of antiarrhythmic agents in this population may be in conjunction with an ICD. In this case, the ICD is used to prevent sudden death due to ventricular fibrillation, while the antiarrhythmic agent(s) are used to suppress ventricular tachyarrhythmias so that the ICD doesn’t shock the patient frequently.
Many attempts have been made to classify antiarrhythmic agents. The problem arises from the fact that many of the antiarrhythmic agents have multiple modes of action, making any classification imprecise.
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- The Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST): The CAST investigators. Preliminary report: effect of encainide and flecainide on mortality in a randomised trial of arrhythmia suppression after myocardial infarction. N Engl J Med 1989, 321:406–412.
- The Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial II (CAST II): The CAST II Investigators. Effect of the antiarrhythmic agent moricizine on survival after myocardial infarction. N Engl J Med. 1992 Jul 23;327(4):227-33.
- Lenz TL, Hilleman DE, Department of Cardiology, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska. Dofetilide, a New Class III Antiarrhythmic Agent. Pharmacotherapy 20(7):776-786, 2000.
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