Cardiotoxicity of macrolides, ketolides and fluoroquinolones that prolong the QTc interval

Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2002 Jul;1(2):121-8. doi: 10.1517/14740338.1.2.121.


Macrolides, ketolides and fluoroquinolones as well as other classes of antimicrobial agents have been associated with prolongation of cardiac repolarisation. This effect is most notable with erythromycin, clarithromycin, gatifloxacin, moxifloxacin, levofloxacin and telithromycin. All of these agents produce a blockage of the HERG channel dependent potassium current in myocyte membranes resulting in a prolonged QTc interval which may give rise to polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, Torsades de Pointes or ventricular fibrillation. The risk of malignant arrhythmias is increased by concomitant usage with Type Ia or III anti-arrhythmic agents or with other drugs that prolong the QTc interval or have competitive metabolic routes. Electrolyte disturbances or underlying cardiac disease also increase the risk of ventricular arrhythmias. The best clinical outcome indicator is the incidence of the associated arrhythmias. The rough rank order of risk with these agents, albeit with limited and incomplete data, is in decreasing order; erythromycin, clarithromycin, gatifloxacin, levofloxacin and moxifloxacin. Telithromycin outcomes for associated arrhythmia are yet to be determined. The essential point is that the overall risk of ventricular arrhythmias is very small with these agents but can be reduced further by avoiding their usage for patients with other multiple risk factors for Torsades de Pointes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / adverse effects*
  • Electrocardiography / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Humans
  • Long QT Syndrome / chemically induced*
  • Macrolides
  • Male
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated / drug effects
  • Risk Factors
  • Torsades de Pointes / chemically induced*
  • Ventricular Fibrillation / chemically induced*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Macrolides
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated