Ventricular arrhythmia in congestive heart failure

Am J Cardiol. 1992 Jun 4;69(18):82G-95G; discussion 95G-96G. doi: 10.1016/0002-9149(92)91257-5.


The importance of ventricular arrhythmia is based on its association with sudden death. In certain groups of patients, ventricular arrhythmia--primarily runs of nonsustained ventricular tachycardia (NSVT)--is associated with an increased risk for sudden death. Although this relationship has been most often reported in patients with recent myocardial infarction, it has also been recognized in patients with dilated cardiomyopathy, regardless of etiology. Therefore, ventricular arrhythmia is common in patients with CHF due to cardiomyopathy. A number of studies have reported that 70-95% of patients with cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure (CHF) have frequent ventricular premature beats, and 40-80% will manifest runs of NSVT. Many factors are responsible for ventricular arrhythmia in such patients, including structural abnormalities, electrolyte imbalance, hemodynamic impairment, activation of neurohormonal mechanisms, and pharmacologic therapy. Many studies have reported a high yearly mortality in patients with cardiomyopathy and CHF; greater than 40% of deaths are sudden, most often the result of sustained ventricular tachyarrhythmia. Most studies have noted an association between presence (and frequency) of NSVT and risk of sudden cardiac death in these patients. Unfortunately, other techniques--such as the signal-averaged electrocardiogram and electrophysiologic testing--are not helpful in identifying the individual at risk. Although several drug interventions will reduce mortality from progressive CHF, these drugs have not been shown to reduce sudden death and, indeed, have a variable effect on ventricular arrhythmia. Although NSVT is a marker for increased risk for sudden death, it is uncertain if antiarrhythmic drugs will prevent this outcome. Antiarrhythmic drugs have not been shown to be effective for preventing sudden death, although there are as yet no well-controlled randomized trials. Several studies suggest that amiodarone and beta blockers are beneficial, but this requires confirmation. For patients who have been resuscitated following an episode of sudden death due to a sustained ventricular tachyarrhythmia, antiarrhythmic therapy guided by invasive and noninvasive techniques appears to reduce risk of recurrent arrhythmia. However, the response rate to antiarrhythmic agents is low and side effects are common in patients with CHF. Especially important is the increased risk of precipitating CHF and aggravating the arrhythmia being treated. For many such patients who have had serious ventricular tachyarrhythmia, the automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator may prove a better option. Other drugs used for management of CHF reduce overall mortality, but not risk of sudden death.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electrodiagnosis
  • Heart Failure / complications*
  • Heart Failure / drug therapy
  • Heart Ventricles
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors
  • Tachycardia / drug therapy
  • Tachycardia / epidemiology
  • Tachycardia / etiology*
  • Tachycardia / therapy
  • Ventricular Function, Left