March 01, 2020

Common heart medication may increase fall risk

If you have the heart condition atrial fibrillation, your doctor may consider a number of treatment strategies — including medications and other interventions — to try to reset the heart's electrical system. Finding the right fit of treatments to do so without causing serious side effects can be difficult.

In a recent study, researchers in Denmark found that amiodarone (Pacerone), a drug commonly used to treat atrial fibrillation, was associated with an increased risk of falls in older people with atrial fibrillation.

The study involved about 101,000 people ages 65 to 100 who had been prescribed a range of heart rhythm drugs. Those drugs included beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, digoxin, amiodarone, flecainide and propafenone. Researchers then tallied those treated for falls and fall-related bone fractures. People taking amiodarone were most likely to have had a fall. Risk was greatest within the first two weeks of taking the drug but remained higher through a year. Digoxin was also associated with a modestly elevated fall risk.

Mayo Clinic doctors say the study adds another important piece of knowledge to help tailor symptom-reducing treatment strategies for atrial fibrillation. Don't stop taking a prescribed heart medication on your own. Rather, work closely with your doctor — preferably a cardiologist who specializes in atrial fibrillation — and pharmacist on a treatment strategy that's right for you, especially if you're at increased risk of falls. The study alone doesn't provide enough detail to justify stopping the use of amiodarone, especially in people who aren't candidates for other treatments.