How are cardiovascular complications treated in pediatric patients with tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) toxicity?

Updated: Mar 18, 2020
  • Author: Derrick Lung, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Stephen L Thornton, MD  more...
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Answer

Hypotension should be initially treated with intravenous fluid boluses. Vasopressors should be started for refractory hypotension. Agents with alpha-adrenergic effects should be chosen.

Dopamine is not usually effective in these patients because its mechanism of action partially depends on the release of endogenous norepinephrine. Cyclic antidepressants block reuptake of norepinephrine, and stores may be depleted in overdose. Animal studies have suggested that epinephrine may cause fewer dysrhythmias than norepinephrine in this setting.

Sodium bicarbonate, given in boluses of 1-3 mEq/kg, is the first-line treatment for severe cardiotoxicity (eg dysrhythmia, conduction disturbance), in order to overcome cardiac sodium channel blockade. [1] Sodium bicarbonate should also be given when the QRS duration is >120 msec or the R wave in aVR is greater than 3 mm, as these are markers of severe cardiotoxicity. An adequate dose will result in rapid shortening of the QRS duration. There is no absolute maximum dose threshold.

The ECG should be monitored for the desired effect of QRS narrowing during and immediately after bolus therapy, and then subsequent QRS widening for ongoing or recrudescent cardiotoxicity. The serum pH should be closely monitored and should not be allowed to exceed 7.55. Serum potassium should also be closely monitored for the development of hypokalemia.

Serum alkalinization with sodium bicarbonate is adjunctive therapy in cyclic antidepressant overdose. Alkalinization of the serum to a pH level of 7.45-7.55 increases protein binding and has been shown to decrease the QRS interval, stabilize dysrhythmias, and increase blood pressure in patients with cyclic antidepressant poisoning. Caution is advised, as some patients may not be able to tolerate the fluid load.

Hypertonic saline may be carefully considered as an alternative to sodium bicarbonate. Animal studies and some human case reports of treatment with hypertonic saline (without serum alkalinization) have shown similar effects on myocardial conduction parameters. [27] Therapy with hypertonic saline should be strongly considered in patients who are already alkalemic and in those who cannot tolerate the large volume load associated with intravenous bicarbonate administration.

Adjunctive treatment of cardiac dysrhythmias

Cardiac dysrhythmias should be treated according to the hemodynamic stability of the patient. Correction of hypoxia, hypotension, and acidosis should be attempted in conjunction with other pharmacologic interventions. Sodium bicarbonate therapy should be initiated in such patients (see above). Temporary pacemakers have been used to treat refractory symptomatic bradycardias not responsive to sodium bicarbonate. [1]  

Lidocaine is the only recommended antiarrhythmic. [28] As a class Ib antiarrhythmic, it exhibits fast on-off sodium channel binding, in contrast to class Ia and Ic antiarrhythmics. Cardiac sodium channel recovery time for class Ib antiarrhythmics is rapid (< 1 second), compared to class Ia (1-10 seconds) and class Ic (>10 seconds) antiarrhythmics. Competitive binding at cardiac sodium channels by lidocaine against cyclic antidepressants (believed to exhibit class Ia effects) is thought to mitigate cardiac toxicity and dysrhythmias.

Magnesium has also been suggested as an adjunct for refractory ventricular dysrhythmias. [29, 30]

Other antiarrhythmic medications are less ideal. Like cyclic antidepressants, class Ia and Ic drugs block sodium channels and prolong depolarization and, therefore, may exacerbate the effects of cyclic antidepressants on the myocardium. Beta-blockers and calcium-channel blockers (class II and IV) are likely to further depress myocardial contractility and cause worsening hypotension. Class III drugs prolong the QT interval and may increase the risk of a malignant ventricular dysrhythmia.

All patients should be monitored for dysrhythmias for at least 12 hours. Patients with signs of severe toxicity (eg altered mental status, hypotension, prolonged QRS duration, seizures, etc) should be admitted to an intensive care unit setting.


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