Can sudden cardiac death be prevented by treatment with anti-arrhythmia drugs?

Zrenner, B.; Koller, B.; Rudolph, W.

Herz 15(2): 90-102


ISSN/ISBN: 0340-9937
PMID: 2188895
Document Number: 366528
Sudden cardiac death is defined as death due to a primary cardiac cause or mechanism, occurring within one hour of the onset of acute illness in a person thought to be free of, or with symptomatically mild, heart disease, or simply prehospital death. Of persons dying suddenly, 90% have coronary artery disease, less commonly, dilated cardiomyopathy or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, preexcitation syndrome, long QT-syndrome, conduction disturbances, congenital or valvular heart disease as well as cardiac tamponade are responsible. In the USA, the incidence of sudden cardiac death is approximately 450,000 per year, in the Federal Republic of Germany the number lies at about 70,000 to 80,000. The most important risk factors for sudden cardiac death are impaired left ventricular ejection fraction, myocardial ischemia and arrhythmias. In general, sudden cardiac death is caused by ventricular fibrillation which arises mainly by degeneration of ventricular tachycardia (VT). The terminal arrhythmia, it is assumed, is precipitated by premature ventricular beats originating in an arrhythmogenic substrate. MEDICAL ANTIARRHYTHMIC TREATMENT IN PATIENTS WITH CORONARY ARTERY DISEASE AFTER MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION: STUDIES WITH CLASS I DRUGS: The results of nine large, randomized , controlled studies are available in which the mortality of patients on antiarrhythmic treatment has been studied (Table 1). Two studies each were carried out with aprindine, phenytoin, mexiletine and tocainide as well as one study with endainide, flecainide or morizicine. With the exception of the CAST study, no study showed a significant difference between treated patients and the control group with respect to mortality or incidence of sudden cardiac death. The CAST study was terminated after ten months because the administration of flecainide and encainide led to overall mortality of 7.7% vs. 3.0% in the control group and the rate of sudden cardiac death at 4.5% was significantly higher in the treatment group than the 1.2% incidence found in controls (Table 2). For nearly all of the studies described, the patient groups were not sufficiently large and subgrouping according to patient characteristics was not carried out such that possibly, inhomogeneity of the entire collective may not have been recognized precluding identification of some individuals who may have shown benefit from antiarrhythmic treatment. The necessity for treatment in many of those receiving drugs is questionable since generally the rhythm profile of the patients was not taken into consideration for the decision to treat. Proarrhythmic effects, accordingly, were also not assessed. Individual treatment and dosage adjustment by monitoring with effectiveness criteria was carried out in one study only in which, even here, criteria for effectiveness were arbitrarily capable of eliciting antiarrhythmic actions. Calculation of mortality rates was carried out on the basis of the total number of deaths in the respective groups without taking into consideration that by the end of the study, in the treatment group the medication had been discontinued in up to 40% of the patients. STUDIES WITH CLASS II DRUGS: For treatment with beta-receptor blockers there are 15 large, controlled, randomized, long-term studies available in which total mortality and the incidence of sudden cardiac death were studied.

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