Ventricular arrhythmias in severe heart failure: incidence, significance, and effectiveness of antiarrhythmic therapy

Am Heart J. 1985 Mar;109(3 Pt 1):497-504. doi: 10.1016/0002-8703(85)90554-x.


Forty-three patients receiving maximal medical therapy for severe chronic heart failure from dilated cardiomyopathies (28 ischemic, 15 idiopathic) and ventricular premature beats (VPBs) on the 12-lead ECG had baseline 24-hour ambulatory ECG monitoring. Complex VPBs (multiform, repetitive--couplets, R on T phenomenon) and asymptomatic, nonsustained ventricular tachycardia were present in 38 patients (88%) and 22 patients (51%), respectively. Twenty-three patients (group I) were placed on long-term antiarrhythmic therapy (20 patients received procainamide and the remaining quinidine). Twenty patients (group II) did not receive antiarrhythmic therapy. At baseline, no significant differences between the two groups were noted for age, functional class, type of cardiomyopathy, medical therapy for heart failure, cardiothoracic ratio, radionuclide ejection fraction, or rate and complexity of the ventricular arrhythmias on the 24-hour ambulatory ECG tracings. At a mean follow-up period of 16 months (range 1 to 37), there were 16 deaths, 10 (62%) of which were sudden and unexpected. No significant differences in the incidence of sudden death and overall mortality were noted between the two groups. Among patients with nonsustained ventricular tachycardia, those who died suddenly had a lower mean left ventricular ejection fraction (0.15 +/- 0.01) when compared to the survivors (0.23 +/- 0.02; p less than 0.01). It is concluded that patients with severe heart failure have a high mortality from both sudden and nonsudden cardiac death, incidence of complex VPBs is very high, sudden death is more common when the left ventricular function is severely compromised, and apparently, therapeutic plasma levels of conventional antiarrhythmic drugs do not protect this group of patients from dying.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / complications*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / drug therapy
  • Chronic Disease
  • Death, Sudden / etiology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Heart Failure / complications*
  • Heart Failure / drug therapy
  • Heart Failure / mortality
  • Heart Ventricles / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Stroke Volume


  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents