BACKGROUND: Amiodarone hydrochloride is an antiarrhythmic agent useful in arrhythmias refractory to standard therapy. Although interstitial pneumonitis is known to be its most serious side effect, several aspects of amiodarone lung toxicity are still controversial. METHODS: Pulmonary side effects were examined in a sample of 61 symptomless patients (mean (SD) age 55 (7) years) who had had long term treatment with amiodarone (daily maintenance dose 400 mg), selected from 482 men attending the University of Barcelona myocardial infarction project. To allow for the confounding effects of coronary artery disease and tobacco history on lung function, 46 patients who had taken amiodarone for more than one year were matched with a control group from the same population. Subjects underwent measurement of lung volumes, arterial blood gas analysis and an incremental bicycle exercise test. RESULTS: Most lung function values were close to predicted values, though there was a small increase in resting alveolar-arterial oxygen tension difference (A-aDO2) at rest (4.8 (1.4) kPa in both groups). There were no differences in the results of forced spirometry or static lung volumes between the two groups, or in the fall in A-aDO2 from rest to exercise. There was a small difference between the amiodarone and the control group in transfer factor for carbon monoxide corrected for lung volume (KCO 1.67 (0.3) and 1.83 (0.3) mmol min-1 kPa-1 l-1 respectively) and in exercise capacity (140 (25) and 120 (30)w). Only three patients showed lung function impairment consistent with pneumonitis. No relation between lung function measures and cumulative doses of amiodarone or desethylamiodarone was found. CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of clinically evident pulmonary side effects was 4.9%, which is lower than that reported in studies in which higher daily maintenance doses of amiodarone were given. The slightly lower KCO values and lower work load achieved by the patients taking amiodarone suggest a small effect of amiodarone in doses of 400 mg on lung function. A role for individual susceptibility to pulmonary complications of amiodarone treatment is suggested.
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