Antiarrhythmic Drugs

Antiarrhythmic Drugs


In a healthy adult with a normal heart, each heartbeat originates in the sinoatrial (SA) node, the rhythm of heartbeats is regular, and the heart rate is about 70 beats/min at rest. If the origin, rhythm, or rate of heartbeats is abnormal, the condition is called an arrhythmia (dysrhythmia). Arrhythmias occur primarily because of disturbances in cardiac impulse formation or conduction, and they can originate in any part of the heart. Those arising in the atria or atrioventricular (AV) node are called supraventricular arrhythmias, whereas those arising in the ventricles are called ventricular arrhythmias. Those in which the heart rate is too rapid are called tachyarrhythmias, and those in which the heart rate is too slow are called bradyarrhythmias.

Some arrhythmias are benign and do not necessarily require treatment. Others require treatment because they reduce cardiac output and blood pressure significantly or because they can precipitate more serious and even lethal rhythm disturbances. Both pharmacologic and electrophysiologic methods are used to terminate and prevent arrhythmias. This chapter describes the pathophysiology of arrhythmias and the mechanisms by which antiarrhythmic drugs work.

Cardiac Action Potentials and Electrocardiographic Findings

Figure 14-1 depicts the relationships among ion currents, cardiac action potentials in phases 0 through 4, and findings on the surface electrocardiogram (ECG).

The SA node, located in the right atrium, is the site of origin of the normal heartbeat. The SA node spontaneously depolarizes to form an impulse that is conducted through the atrium to the AV node and then through the bundle of His, bundle branches, and Purkinje fibers to the ventricular muscle.

The spontaneous depolarization of the SA node is primarily caused by the influx of sodium and potassium as the efflux of potassium subsides. The depolarizing pacemaker current is known the “funny current” or If, and is blocked by ivabradine (see later). When the threshold potential (TP) is reached at about −40 mV, the SA node is more rapidly depolarized by sodium and calcium influx to generate an impulse that can be conducted to the rest of the heart.

As the impulse is conducted to atrial and ventricular muscle cells, these cells are rapidly depolarized by the influx of sodium through the fast sodium channel. As the cells depolarize to about −40 mV, the slow calcium channels open. The influx of calcium through these channels during phase 2 serves to activate muscle contraction. Cardiac tissues become repolarized during phase 3 as a result of the efflux of potassium through several types of rectifier potassium channels, an efflux that occurs when the influx of calcium declines.

As shown in Figure 14-1, the surface ECG is a summation of action potentials generated by the heart during the cardiac cycle. The P wave represents atrial depolarization, whereas the PR interval corresponds to the time required to conduct the action potential through both the atria and the AV node. The QRS complex and the T wave represent ventricular depolarization and ventricular repolarization, respectively. Hence, the QT interval represents the duration of the ventricular action potential.

Pathophysiology of Arrhythmias

Arrhythmias can be caused by coronary ischemia and tissue hypoxia, electrolyte disturbances, overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, general anesthetics, and other conditions or drugs that perturb cardiac transmembrane potentials and lead to abnormal impulse formation or abnormal impulse conduction.

Abnormal Impulse Formation

Abnormal impulse formation can generate extrasystoles and result in tachycardia. The two mechanisms that are primarily responsible for abnormal impulse formation are increased automaticity and the occurrence of afterdepolarizations. These are depicted in Box 14-1.

Box 14-1   The Electrophysiologic Basis of Arrhythmias

Abnormal Impulse Formation

The two mechanisms primarily responsible for abnormal impulse formation are increased automaticity and afterdepolarizations.

Increased automaticity can be caused by any change that decreases the time required for depolarization from the maximal diastolic potential (MDP) to the threshold potential (TP). Increased automaticity occurs if the rate of diastolic depolarization (the slope of phase 4) in the SA node or in latent pacemakers is increased. It also occurs if a shift of the TP occurs to a more negative value or if a shift occurs of the MDP to a more positive value.

Afterdepolarizations are believed to result from abnormal calcium influx into cardiac cells during or immediately after phase 3 of the ventricular action potential. Afterdepolarizations can lead to extrasystoles and tachycardia.

Abnormal Impulse Conduction

Reentry is characterized by the retrograde conduction of an impulse into previously depolarized tissue. It is usually caused by the presence of a unidirectional conduction block in a bifurcating conduction pathway. For reentry to occur, the conduction time through the retrograde pathway must exceed the refractory period of the reentered tissue.

In ventricular tissue, the unidirectional block is often caused by decremental conduction of the impulse in the anterograde direction, with normal conduction of the impulse in the retrograde direction.

Reentry in the atrioventricular (AV) node is the most common electrophysiologic mechanism responsible for paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT). Reentry occurs when a premature atrial depolarization arrives at the AV node and finds that one pathway (β) is still refractory from the previous depolarization. The other pathway (α), however, is able to conduct the impulse to the ventricle. Retrograde conduction of the impulse through pathway β leads to reentry of the atrium and results in tachycardia. In the AV node, the unidirectional block results from the β pathway’s longer refractory period, which blocks anterograde conduction but permits retrograde conduction after it has recovered its excitability.





Increased Automaticity

Spontaneous phase 4 depolarization generates an action potential that can be propagated to other parts of the heart. The SA node is the usual site of spontaneous impulse initiation (automaticity), but other cardiac tissues, including the AV node and the His-Purkinje system tissues, are also capable of spontaneous depolarization. Pathologic conditions or drugs can cause these tissues to depolarize more rapidly and thereby generate abnormal impulses. For example, overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system or use of sympathomimetic drugs increases automaticity and can cause tachyarrhythmia.

The rate at which action potentials are generated in the SA node and elsewhere in the heart depends on the time required to depolarize the tissue from the maximal diastolic potential (MDP) to the TP. Automaticity is increased if the MDP becomes more positive or if the TP becomes more negative. Serum electrolyte abnormalities, hypoxia, and other pathologic changes can affect the MDP or TP in this manner and lead to arrhythmias.

Abnormal Impulse Conduction

Abnormal impulse conduction is the basis for the formation of arrhythmias by the process of reentry, a process that involves reexcitation of a particular zone of cardiac tissue by the same impulse. Reentry is believed to be the most common mechanism responsible for the genesis of arrhythmias. It is usually caused by the presence of a unidirectional conduction block in a bifurcating conduction pathway (see Box 14-1).

Reentry in Ventricular Tissue

In ventricular tissue, ischemia and tissue hypoxia can cause a reduction in the resting membrane potential and a decrease in membrane responsiveness. Under these conditions, the cells do not depolarize as rapidly or completely during phase 0, and this reduces the rate at which the impulse is conducted to surrounding ventricular tissue. When a cardiac impulse is conducted through ischemic or infarcted tissue, the conduction velocity gradually slows until conduction ceases. This phenomenon, called decremental conduction, is the most common cause of a unidirectional block in ventricular tissue. If the unidirectional block occurs in one arm of a bifurcating pathway, the impulse can continue through the other arm in the normal (anterograde) direction and then reenter the ventricular tissue by retrograde conduction.

The reason that the impulse is blocked in the anterograde direction but is conducted in the retrograde direction is related to the characteristics of decremental conduction. In this type of conduction, the impulse encounters increasing resistance as it moves in the anterograde direction, and its velocity slows until the impulse is finally extinguished. The retrograde impulse has full velocity as it encounters the area of greatest resistance, and this enables it to jump across the ischemic area without being extinguished.

Reentry in the Atrioventricular Node

Reentry in the AV node is the most common electrophysiologic mechanism responsible for paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT). Of the several forms of PSVT, the form that occurs in patients with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome involves an accessory AV node conduction pathway through the bundle of Kent. In patients with the most common form of PSVT, however, the reentrant circuit is located entirely within the AV node. In the common form of PSVT, a premature atrial impulse is blocked in one pathway, is conducted through the AV node via the other pathway, and reenters the atrium by retrograde conduction. In AV node reentry, the unidirectional block does not result from decremental conduction but instead is caused by the difference in the refractory periods of the two pathways.

Drug-Induced Arrhythmias

Drugs can induce arrhythmias by several mechanisms.

Sympathomimetic drugs can increase the automaticity of the SA node, AV node, or His-Purkinje fibers and thereby produce tachyarrhythmias.

Digitalis glycosides sometimes evoke afterdepolarizations by increasing calcium influx into cardiac cells, and they can also impair AV node conduction and cause AV block.

Other drugs cause arrhythmias via their effects on ventricular conduction and repolarization. Drugs that slow ventricular repolarization and cause QT prolongation can evoke a form of polymorphic VT called torsades de pointes (based on a French term meaning “fringe of pointed tips”). In this disorder, each QRS complex has a configuration that differs from the preceding one. The QT prolongation appears to predispose the ventricular tissue to afterdepolarizations that produce extrasystoles and tachycardia. Types of drugs that have been reported to induce torsades de pointes include antiarrhythmic drugs (e.g., quinidine and sotalol), histamine antagonists (e.g., astemizole and terfenadine), and psychotropic drugs (e.g., phenothiazines).

Mechanisms and Classification of Antiarrhythmic Drugs

Antiarrhythmic drugs act by suppressing abnormal impulse formation or conduction. Drugs that block sodium or calcium channels can reduce abnormal automaticity and slow conduction of the cardiac impulse. Drugs that block potassium channels can prolong repolarization and the action potential duration and thereby increase the refractory period of cardiac tissue. Drugs that block β-adrenoceptors reduce the sympathetic stimulation of cardiac automaticity and conduction velocity and thereby prevent the overstimulation that contributes to some arrhythmias.

On the basis of these mechanisms, Vaughan-Williams divided the antiarrhythmic drugs into four main classes: Class I, sodium channel blockers; Class II, β-adrenoceptor antagonists (β-blockers); Class III, potassium channel blockers; and Class IV, calcium channel blockers. Although this classification system is useful, a few drugs (such as adenosine) do not fit into any of these categories, and some drugs (such as amiodarone) could fit in more than one category.

Sodium Channel Blockers

Class I, the largest group of antiarrhythmic drugs, consists of sodium channel blockers. These drugs bind to sodium channels when the channels are in the open and inactivated states, and they dissociate from the channels during the resting state (Box 14-2). The sodium channel blockers have the most pronounced effect on cardiac tissue that is firing rapidly, because sodium channels in this tissue spend more time in the open and inactivated states than in the resting state. This is called use-dependent blockade. Because of use-dependent blockade, sodium channel blockers suppress cardiac conduction more in a person with tachycardia than in a person with a normal heart rate.

The drugs in Class I have been subdivided into three groups (IA, IB, and IC), based on whether they have greater affinity for the open state or the inactivated state and based on their rate of dissociation from sodium channels (rate of recovery). As shown in Box 14-2, Class IA drugs have greater affinity for the open state and have a slow recovery; Class IB drugs have greater affinity for the inactivated state and have a rapid recovery; and Class IC drugs have greater affinity for the open state and a very slow recovery.

Class IA Drugs

Disopyramide, procainamide, and quinidine are Class IA drugs. These drugs have similar electrophysiologic effects and clinical indications, but they differ in their pharmacokinetic properties and adverse effects.

Drug Properties

The Class IA drugs block the fast sodium channel and delayed potassium channels. Therefore they slow phase 0 depolarization and phase 3 repolarization in ventricular tissue (Fig. 14-2). These actions decrease the ventricular conduction velocity and prolong the ventricular action potential duration and refractory period (Table 14-1). On the ECG, this increases the QRS duration and prolongs the QT interval. Class IA drugs suppress abnormal (ectopic) automaticity, but they usually do not significantly affect SA node automaticity and the heart rate.

TABLE 14-1

Electrophysiologic Properties of Selected Antiarrhythmic Drugs*

Drug Ectopic automaticity Conduction velocity Refractory period Conduction velocity Refractory period Heart rate PR interval QRS duration QT interval
Class I Drugs
Quinidine ↑ or ↓ → or ↑ ↓↓ ↑↑ ↑ or ↓ ↑ or ↓ ↑↑ ↑↑
Lidocaine → or ↓ ↑ or ↓ → or ↓
Flecainide → or ↑ ↓↓ ↑↑ → or ↑
Class II Drugs
Propranolol ↓↓ ↑↑ ↓↓ ↑↑ → or ↓
Class III Drugs
Amiodarone ↑↑ ↑↑
Dofetilide → or ↓ ↑↑ ↑↑
Sotalol ↑↑ ↑↑
Class IV Drugs
Verapamil, diltiazem ↓↓ ↑↑ ↓↓ ↑↑
Other Drugs
Adenosine ↓↓ ↑↑ ↑↑
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Jul 23, 2016 | Posted by in PHARMACY | Comments Off on Antiarrhythmic Drugs

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