What Is Amiodarone, How Does It Work, And What Are The Risks/Side Effects?

Question: I have been placed on an antiarrhythmic drug called amiodarone for my heart rhythm problem. How does it work and what are the side effects?

Answer :Amiodarone is a very commonly used heart rhythm medicine. It's been available for over 20 years in the United States, and worldwide been available even longer.

It's one of the most commonly used heart rhythm drugs in the world because it's even more effective than many of the other heart rhythm drugs that are commercially available. And it's useful not only in treating top chamber rhythms -- what we call super ventricular arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation -- but bottom chamber arrhythmias.

It works like two out of three times, even in people that have failed other heart rhythm drugs. Sounds pretty good, but there are some concerns in using this drug is that it does have some adverse events and toxicities that are a little bit more than some of the other heart rhythm drugs that we use and because of this we often reserve use of this drug for patients who have failed other drugs or where we don't have any other choices.

Some of the side effects of this drug is that it makes your skin sensitive to the sun and you could sunburn. This is usually averted by wearing sunblocks.

This drug has 75 mg of iodine in every 200 mg tablet, and we have to monitor thyroid function because the thyroid gland likes iodine and it could make your thyroid not work the way it should.

One of the more concerning adverse events is that sometimes this can inflame the liver, or more importantly the lungs. And your doctor may get baseline chest X-rays and blood tests to screen for this and make sure that you do not have any of these problems.

These problems occur very uncommonly and are not a reason not to take the medicine, but again, your doctor will have to decide whether this is a good idea for you or not. And part of being on this drug is that you will get some blood tests and chest X-rays, sometimes lung functions as part of the monitoring, to make sure that this drug does not cause any of these adverse events.