Ricker Polsdorfer, MD
The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.
Treatment of arrhythmias depends on the type and seriousness of the particular rhythm disturbance. Medications are most often used to treat tachyarrhythmias (fast heart rates). These include:
Class II: Beta blockers
Class IV: Calcium Channel Blockers
In one way or another, all of these drugs act to slow the electrical activity in the heart. Many of them have additional uses, such as treating high blood pressure. All of them can produce serious side effects and must be used with great care and strict adherence to instructions.
Common names include:
Class I drugs are the most prone to side effects outside the circulatory system.
Possible side effects include:
There are many beta blockers, but generally these two are the ones used to treat arrhythmias. All beta blockers are used primarily for blood pressure control or to treat
angina. Side effects are less wide ranging than Class I drugs.
These agents are generally reserved for life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias and those that have been resistant to other treatments.
Most of the drugs in this category are used to lower blood pressure or treat angina.
Common side effects include:
There is also a long list of more serious, but rare side effects, depending upon the particular drug, which include:
These drugs are very effective at treating heart failure, but have much more restricted use in heart rhythm disturbances. They are primarily used to control the rate of ventricular response to tachyarrhythmias. Digitalis glycosides have a very narrow therapeutic window between taking too little and taking too much.
is given intravenously to stop certain tachyarrhythmias.
Whenever you are taking a prescription medication, take the following precautions:
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Drugs for arrhythmias. Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular_disorders/arrhythmias_and_conduction_disorders/overview_of_arrhythmias.html#v936804. Updated July 2012. Accessed March 20, 2014.
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How are arrhythmias treated?
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr/treatment.html. Updated July 1, 2011. Accessed March 20, 2014.
Medications for arrhythmia. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/PreventionTreatmentofArrhythmia/Medications-for-Arrhythmia_UCM_301990_Article.jsp. Updated February 26, 2014. Accessed March 20, 2014.
Triola BR, Kowey PR. Antiarrhythmic drug therapy.
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Viskin S, Fish R, et al. The adenosine triphosphate test: a bedside diagnostic tool for identifying the mechanism of supraventricular tachycardia in patients with palpitations.
J Am Coll Cardiol.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
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