When the heart diverts from its normal rhythm, a condition known as an arrhythmia develops. Amiodarone can be used to help treat arrhythmias that develop in the lower chambers of the heart known as the ventricles and cause the heart to beat too fast. In general, it works by affecting the nerve impulses being sent to the heart, which leads to a slowing of the heart beat. It is typically used only as a last resort in treating specific types of ventricular arrhythmias that are potentially fatal. In general, it must be taken under the close supervision of a health care provider and may not be recommended for use in some people. This is due in part to how amiodarone affects the body and because of its potential side effects, many of which can be very serious.
Due to the seriousness of the condition amiodarone is used to treat and the drug’s potential to cause serious side effects, it is usually given under the close watch of a health care provider. This may involve, for example, a hospital stay at the start of treatment to allow health care professionals to adjust the dosage and to watch for adverse reactions to the drug. Even after a person successfully begins treatment, regular check-ups, including blood and heart function tests, are often needed to monitor a person’s condition.
The use of amiodarone may be contraindicated in some people. This group can include, for example, people who are taking certain other medications, such as some calcium channel blockers and antiretroviral medications. People with certain health conditions, such as low blood potassium or magnesium levels, may also be advised against taking the drug. For some, such as women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, the benefits of using the drug must be carefully considered against the possible risks.
There are many potential side effects associated with amiodarone. Some of them are mild, such as flushing and decreased libido, and often go away with time. There are many others, however, that can be signs of more serious, possibly even life-threatening problems, such as liver damage, lung damage, or worsening arrhythmia. Such serious side effects can include trouble breathing, fainting, or yellowing of the skin or eyes. Health care providers generally recommend that people taking amiodarone become familiar with the signs of potentially serious side effects and get medical help right away if any develop.