Is it safe to use diltiazem or verapamil for treatment of my hospitalized patient with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) and atrial fibrillation?

Short answer, no! It is generally recommended to avoid the use of diltiazem or verapamil, both a non-dihydropyridine calcium channel blocker (CCB), in patients with HFrEF.  Multiple randomized controlled trials involving patients with HFrEF have shown that use of diltiazem [1] or verapamil [2] is associated with increased cardiovascular mortality and morbidity, especially congestive heart failure (CHF) exacerbations.

Although you might argue that most studies [1,2] on HFrEF on CCBs have been based on patients on chronic (weeks to months) therapy, these agents are also sometimes used in the acute inpatient setting for rate control in atrial fibrillation and even blood pressure control. Even in acute settings, avoidance of these agents–or at least using them with great caution— in patients with HFrEF is prudent. Fortunately, for blood pressure control, another CCB, amlodipine [3] has been deemed safe to use in patients with HFrEF.

Adverse effects of diltiazem and verapamil are often attributed to their negative inotropic effects. As a result, patients with preexisting left ventricular dysfunction may be expected to have worse outcomes. In contrast, amlodipine primarily acts on the peripheral vasculature without significant negative inotropic effect. [4]

What about the use of these agents in patients with heart failure and preserved ejection fraction? Studies to date have found that CCBs are safe in this setting, although no mortality benefit has been shown with their use either [1]

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that use of another CCB, nifedipine, a close cousin of amlodipine (both 1,4- dihydropyridines), has been associated with increased cardiovascular morbidity (worsening CHF and increased hospitalizations) in patients with HFrEF? [5]

Contributed by Fahad Tahir, MD, Mercy Hospital-St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri

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  1. Goldstein RE, Boccuzzi SJ, Cruess D, Nattel S. Diltiazem increases late-onset congestive heart failure in postinfarction patients with early reduction in ejection fraction. The Adverse Experience Committee; and the Multicenter Diltiazem Postinfarction Research Group. Circulation. 1991 Jan;83(1):52-60. doi: 10.1161/01.cir.83.1.52. PMID: 1984898.
  2. Effect of verapamil on mortality and major events after acute myocardial infarction (the Danish Verapamil Infarction Trial II–DAVIT II). Am J Cardiol. 1990 Oct 1;66(10):779-85. doi: 10.1016/0002-9149(90)90351-z. PMID: 2220572.
  3. Packer M, Carson P, Elkayam U, Konstam MA, Moe G, O’Connor C, Rouleau JL, Schocken D, Anderson SA, DeMets DL; PRAISE-2 Study Group. Effect of amlodipine on the survival of patients with severe chronic heart failure due to a nonischemic cardiomyopathy: results of the PRAISE-2 study (prospective randomized amlodipine survival evaluation 2). JACC Heart Fail. 2013 Aug;1(4):308-314. doi: 10.1016/j.jchf.2013.04.004. Epub 2013 Aug 5. PMID: 24621933.
  4. Zamponi, G. W., Striessnig, J., Koschak, A., & Dolphin, A. C. (2015). The Physiology, Pathology, and Pharmacology of Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels and Their Future Therapeutic Potential. Pharmacological reviews, 67(4), 821–870.
  5. Elkayam U, Amin J, Mehra A, Vasquez J, Weber L, Rahimtoola SH. A prospective, randomized, double-blind, crossover study to compare the efficacy and safety of chronic nifedipine therapy with that of isosorbide dinitrate and their combination in the treatment of chronic congestive heart failure. Circulation. 1990 Dec;82(6):1954-61. doi: 10.1161/01.cir.82.6.1954. PMID: 2242521.

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, their affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

Is it safe to use diltiazem or verapamil for treatment of my hospitalized patient with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) and atrial fibrillation?

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