Background: Empirical antiarrhythmic therapy has not reduced mortality among patients with coronary artery disease and asymptomatic ventricular arrhythmias. Previous studies have suggested that antiarrhythmic therapy guided by electrophysiologic testing might reduce the risk of sudden death.
Methods: We conducted a randomized, controlled trial to test the hypothesis that electrophysiologically guided antiarrhythmic therapy would reduce the risk of sudden death among patients with coronary artery disease, a left ventricular ejection fraction of 40 percent or less, and asymptomatic, unsustained ventricular tachycardia. Patients in whom sustained ventricular tachyarrhythmias were induced by programmed stimulation were randomly assigned to receive either antiarrhythmic therapy, including drugs and implantable defibrillators, as indicated by the results of electrophysiologic testing, or no antiarrhythmic therapy. Angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors and beta-adrenergic-blocking agents were administered if the patients could tolerate them.
Results: A total of 704 patients with inducible, sustained ventricular tachyarrhythmias were randomly assigned to treatment groups. Five-year Kaplan-Meier estimates of the incidence of the primary end point of cardiac arrest or death from arrhythmia were 25 percent among those receiving electrophysiologically guided therapy and 32 percent among the patients assigned to no antiarrhythmic therapy (relative risk, 0.73; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.53 to 0.99), representing a reduction in risk of 27 percent). The five-year estimates of overall mortality were 42 percent and 48 percent, respectively (relative risk, 0.80; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.64 to 1.01). The risk of cardiac arrest or death from arrhythmia among the patients who received treatment with defibrillators was significantly lower than that among the patients discharged without receiving defibrillator treatment (relative risk, 0.24; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.13 to 0.45; P<0.001). Neither the rate of cardiac arrest or death from arrhythmia nor the overall mortality rate was lower among the patients assigned to electrophysiologically guided therapy and treated with antiarrhythmic drugs than among the patients assigned to no antiarrhythmic therapy.
Conclusions: Electrophysiologically guided antiarrhythmic therapy with implantable defibrillators, but not with antiarrhythmic drugs, reduces the risk of sudden death in high-risk patients with coronary disease.