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Arrhythmogenic mechanisms of non-sedating antihistamines


Dr Yee Guan Yap British Heart Foundation Research Fellow in Cardiology, Department of Cardiological Sciences, St George's Hospital Medical School, Cranmer Terrace, London SW17 0RE, UK.


Antihistamines (H1-receptor antagonists) are amongst the most frequently prescribed drugs worldwide for the treatment of allergic conditions. Recently, there have been reports that certain non-sedating antihistamines, mainly terfenadine and astemizole, might be associated with the risk of rare but severe arrhythmias, namely torsades de pointes, particularly in overdosage, concomitant ingestion of imidazole or macrolide antibiotics and in patients with underlying cardiac or liver diseases. It has now been shown that the molecular target in human ventricle for the potassium channel blockade of antihistamine is HERG gene located in chromosome 7 that expresses the delayed rectifier IKr and appears to be involved in the congenital long QT syndrome. Mechanistic studies showed that blockade of IKr channels by these drugs leads to prolongation of the monophasic action potential (QT interval on surface electrocardiogram) which may then induce the development of early after-depolarization and dispersion of repolarisation leading to torsades de pointes through re-entry mechanism. There are still many questions that need to be answered such as the roles of other potassium channels (IKs, Ito, and Iped) and the relative expression of various potassium channels in different individuals which may be important in the pathogenesis of torsades de pointes with non-sedating antihistamines. There is also a lack of information on the cardiac actions of newer non-sedating antihistamines. It is hoped that with a better understanding of the arrhythmogenic mechanism of non-sedating antihistamines, one will be able to identify those at risk patients and prevent any cardiac toxicity associated with antihistamines and ultimately death.

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