BACKGROUND: The reason for the association of increased risk of death with fenoterol in patients with asthma in New Zealand is unknown but may relate to its cardiovascular effects. Most deaths from asthma occur outside hospital, where hypoxaemia is likely to be a complicating factor. The cardiovascular effects of fenoterol have been investigated therefore under conditions of normoxaemia and hypoxaemia. METHOD: Eight healthy men were studied on two occasions. Measurements of heart rate, blood pressure, total electromechanical systole (QS2I), electrocardiographic QTc interval, cardiac index, stroke volume, and ejection fraction were made under conditions of normoxaemia and hypoxaemia (arterial oxygen saturation 90%) before and after administration of 800 micrograms of fenoterol by a metered dose inhaler. The order in which treatments were applied was according to a Latin square design. RESULTS: Before inhalation of fenoterol hypoxaemia was associated with a significant increase in heart rate (8 beats/min) and QTc interval (15.6 ms). Under conditions of normoxaemia fenoterol caused a significant increase in heart rate (14.3 beats/min), systolic blood pressure (7.7 mm Hg), stroke volume (27.7 ml), cardiac index (1.6 1/min/m2), ejection fraction (11.48), and QTc interval (32.9 ms) and a fall in QS2I (-23.2 ms) and diastolic blood pressure (-8.4 mm Hg). Under conditions of hypoxaemia the changes after inhalation of fenoterol were similar to those recorded during normoxaemia; thus the effects of hypoxaemia and fenoterol were additive (heart rate 21.9 beats/min, QTc 43.5 ms with fenoterol and hypoxaemia). CONCLUSION: The chronotropic and electrophysiological effects of fenoterol were enhanced by conditions of hypoxaemia.
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