Cardiology Groups Push Back on Hydroxychloroquine, Azithromycin for COVID-19

M. Alexander Otto

April 09, 2020

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The nation's leading cardiology associations urged caution with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for COVID-19 in patients with cardiovascular disease.

"Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin have been touted for potential prophylaxis or treatment for COVID-19; both drugs are listed as definite causes of torsade de pointes" and increase in the risk of other arrhythmias and sudden death, the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the Heart Rhythm Society said in a joint statement April 8 in Circulation.

The statement came amid ongoing promotion by the Trump administration of hydroxychloroquine, in particular, for COVID-19 despite lack of strong data.

In addition to underlying cardiovascular disease, "seriously ill patients often have comorbidities that can increase risk of serious arrhythmias," including hypokalemia, hypomagnesemia, fever, and systemic inflammation, the groups said.

They recommended withholding the drugs in patients with baseline QT prolongation (e.g., QTc of at least 500 msec) or with known congenital long QT syndrome; monitoring cardiac rhythm and QT interval and withdrawing hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin if QTc exceeds 500 msec; correcting hypokalemia to levels greater than 4 mEq/L and hypomagnesemia to more than 2 mg/dL; and avoiding other QTc-prolonging agents when possible.

The groups noted that, "in patients critically ill with COVID-19 infection, frequent caregiver contact may need to be minimized, so optimal electrocardiographic interval and rhythm monitoring may not be possible." There is also a possible compounding arrhythmic effect when hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin are used together, but that has not been studied.

There's a known risk of torsade de pointes with chloroquine and a possible risk with the antiviral HIV combination drug lopinavir-ritonavir, two other candidates for COVID-19 treatment. Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, both antimalarials, might help prevent or treat infection by interfering with angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptors, which the COVID-19 virus uses for cell entry, the groups said.

"The urgency of COVID-19 must not diminish the scientific rigor with which we approach COVID-19 treatment. While these medications may work against COVID-19 individually or in combination, we recommend caution with these medications for patients with existing cardiovascular disease," Robert A. Harrington, MD, AHA president and chair of the department of medicine at Stanford (Calif.) University, emphasized in a press release.

SOURCE: Roden DM et al. Circulation. 2020 Apr 8. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.047521.

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