Purpose: Adenosine is a useful agent for the diagnosis and termination of tachycardias. The purpose of this study was to identify the rhythms for which adenosine is prescribed in hospitalized adults and to identify the reasons for its misuse.
Patients and methods: Data were collected from the medical records of 100 patients who received intravenous adenosine while hospitalized at a university medical center. The characteristics of the patients, rhythms treated with adenosine, and dosages of adenosine were analyzed. In addition, internal medicine house officers were administered a questionnaire referring to an electrocardiogram of atrial fibrillation with a rapid ventricular response.
Results: The arrhythmias for which adenosine was administered consisted of regular, narrow-QRS complex tachycardias in 33% of patients; atrial fibrillation in 32% of patients; regular, wide-QRS complex tachycardias in 23% of patients; atrial flutter in 10% of patients, and multifocal atrial tachycardia in 2% of patients. The mean (+/-SD) number of doses of adenosine given to each patient was 1.6+/-0.8, and the mean dose of adenosine was 7.8+/-2.8 mg. Internal medicine house officers prescribed 70% of the doses of adenosine and were as likely to use it for patients with atrial fibrillation as were surgical house officers. There was a 2% incidence of proarrhythmia, including asystole and polymorphic ventricular tachycardia. Thirty-one percent of the 100 house officers in our survey misdiagnosed a 12-lead electrocardiogram of rapid atrial fibrillation as paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, suggesting that adenosine may have been misused for atrial fibrillation because of errors in rhythm diagnosis. Only 5% of those who correctly diagnosed atrial fibrillation also answered that adenosine would be likely to terminate the arrhythmia, suggesting that a misunderstanding that adenosine terminates atrial fibrillation is not a common reason for its misuse.
Conclusions: Approximately 40% of hospitalized adults who are treated with adenosine receive the medication unnecessarily for atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter, and this misuse results in unnecessary expenses and risks of adverse effects. The primary reason that adenosine is misused for atrial fibrillation is the inability to recognize that rhythm on an electrocardiogram. House officers need additional education on the electrocardiographic recognition of atrial fibrillation.