Interview with Andrew D. Krahn, M.D.,FHRS, head of the division of cardiology at St. Paul’s Hospital, and professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, and vice president of the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS). He is an expert in long QT syndrome (LQTS) and is involved with the National Long QT Registry. He explains the issues with the drugs being used to treat coronavirus (COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2) patients and why these combined with the cardiac impact of the virus is causing prolonged ECG QT segment prolongation, leading to deadly arrhythmias. COVID-19 can cause myocarditis that causes QT prolongation and the front-line COVID drugs hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin also cause QT prolongation.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Drug Safety Communication April 23, 2020, reminding doctors there are serious side effects when using hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in the off-label use to treat COVID-19 patients. This includes potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems. The FDA said case reports from the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System database, published medical literature and the American Association of Poison Control Centers National Poison Data System are reporting serious heart-related adverse events and patient deaths. Read more about this alert.
The FDA warning confirmed fears from the American Heart Association (AHA), the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS). These societies April 8 jointly published a new guidance, “Considerations for Drug Interactions on QTc in Exploratory COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 19) Treatment,” to detail critical cardiovascular considerations in the use of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for the treatment of COVID-19. The societies warned that use of these agents in a large number of patients in combination would results in arrhythmias and deaths. Read more.
However, there are numerous advocates that argue hydroxychloroquine needs to be used in less sick patients who are not already hypoxic to treat COVID, but it is being used primarily in very sick patients where it is not effective. Advocates also argue the drug can be used to help prevent coronavirus, similar to the drug's effect in preventing malaria. In terms of drug safety, advocates argue the drug has been used in millions of patients for more than 50 years without a high risk of arrhythmias. Several trials are now underway in the United States to test its use against COVID-19, but enrollment has been hampered because of the FDA warning. There will likely be more interest in hydroxychloroquine after it was revealed May 18, 2020, that President Trump is taking the drug for prophylaxis against COVID-19.
Related Hydroxychloroquine Content:
VIDEO: Overview of Hydroxychloroquine and FDA Warning in its use to Treat COVID-19 — Interview with Marianne Pop, Pharm.D.
VIDEO: Cardiologists Manage Trial Testing if Hydroxychloroquine Protects Clinicians From COVID-19 — Interview with William O'Neill, M.D.