Background: Milrinone, a phosphodiesterase inhibitor, enhances cardiac contractility by increasing intracellular levels of cyclic AMP, but the long-term effect of this type of positive inotropic agent on the survival of patients with chronic heart failure has not been determined.
Methods: We randomly assigned 1,088 patients with severe chronic heart failure (New York Heart Association class III or IV) and advanced left ventricular dysfunction to double-blind treatment with (40 mg of oral milrinone daily (561 patients) or placebo (527 patients). In addition, all patients received conventional therapy with digoxin, diuretics, and a converting-enzyme inhibitor throughout the trial. The median period of follow-up was 6.1 months (range, 1 day to 20 months).
Results: As compared with placebo, milrinone therapy was associated with a 28 percent increase in mortality from all causes (95 percent confidence interval, 1 to 61 percent; P = 0.038) and a 34 percent increase in cardiovascular mortality (95 percent confidence interval, 6 to 69 percent; P = 0.016). The adverse effect of milrinone was greatest in patients with the most severe symptoms (New York Heart Association class IV), who had a 53 percent increase in mortality (95 percent confidence interval, 13 to 107 percent; P = 0.006). Milrinone did not have a beneficial effect on the survival of any subgroup. Patients treated with milrinone had more hospitalizations (44 vs. 39 percent, P = 0.041), were withdrawn from double-blind therapy more frequently (12.7 vs. 8.7 percent, P = 0.041), and had serious adverse cardiovascular reactions, including hypotension (P = 0.006) and syncope (P = 0.002), more often than the patients given placebo.
Conclusions: Our findings indicate that despite its beneficial hemodynamic actions, long-term therapy with oral milrinone increases the morbidity and mortality of patients with severe chronic heart failure. The mechanism by which the drug exerts its deleterious effects is unknown.