QT interval prolongation, corrected for heart rate (QTc), either spontaneous or drug-induced, is associated with an increased risk of torsades de pointes and sudden death. Women have longer QTc than men and are at higher risk of torsades de pointes, particularly during post-partum and the follicular phase. Men with peripheral hypogonadism have longer QTc than healthy controls. The role of the main sex steroid hormones has been extensively studied with inconsistent findings. Overall, estradiol is considered to promote QTc lengthening while progesterone and testosterone shorten QTc. New findings suggest more complex regulation of QTc by sex steroid hormones involving gonadotropins (i.e. follicle-stimulating hormone), the relative concentrations of sex steroid hormones (which depends on gender, i.e., progesterone/estradiol ratio in women). Aldosterone, another structurally related steroid hormone, can also prolong ventricular repolarization in both sex. Better understanding of pathophysiological hormonal processes which may lead to increased susceptibility of women (and possibly hypogonadic men) to drug-induced arrhythmia may foster preventive treatments (e.g. progesterone in women). Exogenous hormonal intake might offer new therapeutic opportunities or, alternatively, increase the risk of torsades de pointes. Some exogenous sex steroids may also have paradoxical effects on ventricular repolarization. Lastly, variations of QTc in women linked to the menstrual cycle and sex hormone fluctuations are generally ignored in regulatory thorough QT studies. Investigators and regulatory agencies promoting inclusion of women in thorough QT studies should be aware of this source of variability especially when studying drugs over several days of administration.
Keywords: Aldosterone; Gonadal steroid hormones; Gonadotropins; Long QT syndrome; Mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists; QTc.
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