Systemic antifungal agents. Drug interactions of clinical significance

Drug Saf. 1998 Feb;18(2):83-97. doi: 10.2165/00002018-199818020-00001.


There are 3 main classes of systemic antifungals: the polyene macrolides (e.g. amphotericin B), the azoles (e.g. the imidazoles ketoconazole and miconazole and the triazoles itraconazole and fluconazole) and the allylamines (e.g. terbinafine). Other systemic antifungals include griseofulvin and flucytosine. Most drug-drug interactions involving systemic antifungals have negative consequences. The interactions of amphotericin B, flucytosine, griseofulvin, terbinafine and azole antifungals can be divided into the following categories: (i) additive dangerous interactions; (ii) modifications of antifungal kinetics by other drugs; and (iii) modifications of the kinetics of other drugs by antifungals. Amphotericin B and flucytosine mainly interact with other agents pharmacodynamically. Clinically important drug interactions with amphotericin B cause nephrotoxicity, hypokalaemia and blood dyscrasias. The most important drug interaction of flucytosine occurs with myelotoxic agents. Hypokalaemia can precipitate the long QT syndrome, as well as potentially lethal ventricular arrhythmias like torsade de pointes. Synergism is likely to occur when either QT interval-modifying drugs (e.g. terfenadine and astemizole) and drugs that induce hypokalaemia (e.g. amphotericin B) are coadministered. Induction and inhibition of cytochrome P450 enzymes at hepatic and extrahepatic sites are the mechanisms that underlie the most serious pharmacokinetic drug interactions of the azole antifungals. These agents have been shown to notably decrease the catabolism of numerous drugs: histamine H1 receptor antagonists, warfarin, cyclosporin, tacrolimus, digoxin, felodipine, lovastatin, midazolam, triazolam, methylprednisolone, glibenclamide (glyburide), phenytoin, rifabutin, ritonavir, saquinavir, nevirapine and nortriptyline. Non-antifungal drugs like carbamazepine, phenobarbital (phenobarbitone), phenytoin and rifampicin (rifampin) can induce the metabolism of azole antifungals. The bioavailability of ketoconazole and itraconazole is also reduced by drugs that increase gastric pH, such as H2 receptor antagonists, proton pump inhibitors, sucralfate and didanosine. Griseofulvin is an enzymatic inducer of coumarin-like drugs and estrogens, whereas terbinafine seems to have a low potential for drug interactions. Despite important advances in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying pharmacokinetic drug interactions during the 1990s, at this time they still remain difficult to predict in terms of magnitude in individual patients. This is because of the large interindividual and intraindividual variations in the catalytic activity of those metabolising enzymes that can either be induced or inhibited by various drugs. Notwithstanding these variations, increasing clinical experience is allowing pharmacokinetic interactions to be used to advantage in order to improve the tolerability of some drugs, as recently exemplified by the use of a fixed combination of ketoconazole and cyclosporin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antifungal Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antifungal Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Drug Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Hypokalemia / chemically induced
  • Renal Insufficiency / chemically induced


  • Antifungal Agents