Cardiac concern about hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine
Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is an antimalarial drug shown to have in vitro (but not yet in vivo) activity against diverse RNA viruses, including SARS-CoV-1.20 An expert consensus group from China suggests that chloroquine improved lung imaging and shortened disease course.21 HCQ was found to be more potent than chloroquine in inhibiting SARS-CoV-2 in vitro.22
Based on limited in vitro and anecdotal clinical data from other countries, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently authorized emergency use of chloroquine and HCQ in hopes of slowing the progression of the disease when a clinical trial is not available, or participation is not feasible for use of these drugs in hospitalized patients. However, with no clear benefit, there is a concern for possible risks with cardiac toxicity.
HCQ is known to cause cardiomyopathy in a dose-dependent manner over several years. Given the anticipated short duration in COVID-19, it is not an expected risk. QT-segment prolongation and torsades de pointes, especially if administered in combination with azithromycin, is possible even in short term use.23
Given above, frequent ECG monitoring is indicated for patients being treated with chloroquine or HCQ. All other QT-prolonging drugs should be discontinued. Continuous telemetry monitoring while under treatment is reasonable. HCQ should not be started if baseline QTc is > 500 msec and it should be stopped if the patient develops ventricular arrhythmias.12
is a noninvasive cardiologist for Wellspan Health System in Franklin and Cumberland counties in south central Pennsylvania. He is a clinical assistant professor of medicine at Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pa. He is an active member of the critical care committee at Wellspan Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital. is the medical director of Keystone Infectious Diseases/HIV in Chambersburg and currently chair of infection prevention at Wellspan Chambersburg and Waynesboro Hospitals, all in Pennsylvania. He also is the lead physician for antibiotic stewardship at these hospitals. is currently working as a hospitalist at Wellspan Chambersburg Hospital and is a member of the Wellspan pharmacy and therapeutics committee. is hospital medicine division chief at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson.
- Acute cardiac injury or myocarditis is common among patients infected with COVID-19. Often, COVID myocarditis can mimic acute MI or stress cardiomyopathy and will present diagnostic and therapeutic challenges. On the other hand, isolated cardiac involvement can occur, even without symptoms and signs of interstitial pneumonia.
- A most important indicator of worse prediction is the degree of myocardial injury, regardless of preexisting conditions or underlying cardiovascular disease.
- Early recognition of cardiac involvement will be helpful in targeting more aggressive supportive therapies. Commonly available clinical tools like bloodwork, ECG, or echocardiogram should be adequate to diagnose carditis in most cases.
- Advanced cardiac imaging tests or cardiac biopsy are of uncertain benefits. Meticulous evaluation is needed for possible ischemic changes before taking the patient to the cardiac cath lab in order to reduce unnecessary virus exposure to the operators.
- ACEI/ARB should be continued in most cases in COVID patients based on cardiology societies’ recommendations.
- With the widespread use of antimalarial drugs like chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, frequent ECG and continuous telemetry monitoring is reasonable to rule out ventricular arrhythmias like torsades.
- There is no specific treatment to date for acute cardiac injuries. Since there are no specific guidelines and information about the virus is rapidly changing, it will be prudent to follow common-sense approaches outlined by institutions like the Brigham and Women’s Hospital COVID-19 Critical Care clinical guidelines which incorporate new clinical information on a daily basis ().
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