What Is Amiodarone Used For?

Adults who have a potentially life-threatening ventricular arrhythmia may benefit from using amiodarone when other treatment has failed or cannot be tolerated. In some cases, this medication may be prescribed for children, although this use has not been adequately studied in this age group. There may also be unapproved reasons to use this medicine, such as for the treatment of atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter.

An Overview of Amiodarone Uses

Amiodarone (Cordarone®, Pacerone®, Nexterone®) is a prescription antiarrhythmia medication approved to treat certain types of serious abnormal heartbeats known as ventricular arrhythmias. These arrhythmias occur in the lower chambers of the heart, or the ventricles. Because of the risk of serious side effects, amiodarone is only approved for use in people who have not responded to or who cannot tolerate other treatment.
Not all ventricular arrhythmias are serious. Amiodarone is only approved to treat life-threatening arrhythmias known as ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.

What Are Ventricular Arrhythmias?

Ventricular tachycardia occurs when the ventricles beat very quickly, causing a heart rate that is more than 100 to 120 beats a minute. In many cases, ventricular tachycardia will resolve on its own and the heartbeat will return to normal within a few seconds. However, if the abnormal heartbeat persists, the heart may not be able to pump blood to the rest of the body, which could cause damage to important organs.
Ventricular tachycardia is considered "unstable" when there are signs that the blood flow to the body's important organs is insufficient. Some of these signs may include:
  • Low blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • A very fast heartbeat.
Unstable ventricular tachycardia is usually treated with electric cardioversion (a procedure in which an electrical current is sent to the heart to return it to a normal rhythm). Amiodarone may be used in addition to or after electric cardioversion has occurred.
Ventricular fibrillation is an extremely dangerous type of arrhythmia in which the electrical activity of the heart is so disorganized that the ventricles quiver instead of beating in a regular manner. As a result the ventricles cannot pump blood out of the heart to the rest of the body.
Ventricular fibrillation is a medical emergency that must be treated immediately to prevent death, usually with defibrillation. Defibrillation is a procedure in which a device is used to send an electrical shock to the heart. Amiodarone may be used in addition to or after defibrillation.
Because these life-threatening arrhythmias require immediate treatment, amiodarone is often given initially as an intravenous injection (an injection into a vein) until the arrhythmia is stable. At that time, a person may be switched over to amiodarone tablets to help prevent future episodes of these serious arrhythmias. Intravenous amiodarone can also be used for people who cannot take the medication by mouth.
Like other arrhythmia medicines, amiodarone has not been shown to help people with arrhythmias live longer. Because it is associated with potentially dangerous side effects, it should only be used to treat serious arrhythmias.
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