Control of heart rate in critically ill patients who develop atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter can be difficult. Amiodarone may be an alternative agent for heart rate control if conventional measures are ineffective. We retrospectively studied intensive care unit patients (n = 38) who received intravenous amiodarone for heart rate control in the setting of hemodynamically destabilizing atrial tachyarrhythmias resistant to conventional heart rate control measures. Atrial fibrillation was present in 33 patients and atrial flutter in 5 patients. Onset of rapid heart rate (mean 149 +/- 13 beats/min) was associated with a decrease in systolic blood pressure of 20 +/- 5 mm Hg (p <0.05). Intravenous diltiazem (n = 34), esmolol (n = 4), or digoxin (n = 24) had no effect on heart rate, while reducing systolic blood pressure by 6 +/- 4 mm Hg (p <0.05). The infusion of amiodarone (242 +/- 137 mg over 1 hour) was associated with a decrease in heart rate by 37 +/- 8 beats/min and an increase in systolic blood pressure of 24 +/- 6 mm Hg. Both of these changes were significantly improved (p <0.05) from onset of rapid heart rate or during conventional therapy. Beneficial changes were also noted in pulmonary artery occlusive pressure and cardiac output. There were no adverse effects secondary to amiodarone therapy. Intravenous amiodarone is efficacious and hemodynamically well tolerated in the acute control of heart rote in critically ill patients who develop atrial tachyarrhythmias with rapid ventricular response refractory to conventional treatment. Cardiac electrophysiologic consultation should be obtained before using intravenous amiodarone for this purpose.