Amiodarone for irregular heartbeats

  • Amiodarone is used to treat irregular beating of the heart. Treatment with it will be started by a heart specialist.
  • It is very important that you take amiodarone exactly as your doctor tells you to. You will be started on a high dose which will then be reduced over three weeks.
  • Amiodarone is likely to cause your skin to become more sensitive to sunlight than normal. Use a sunscreen on the areas of your skin exposed to sunlight.
Type of medicine Anti-arrhythmic
Used for Irregular beating of the heart
Also called Cordarone X®
Available as Tablets and injection

Amiodarone is used to treat heart arrhythmias. An arrhythmia is an irregularity in your heartbeat which causes your heart to miss a beat, beat irregularly, or beat at the wrong speed. Amiodarone is likely to have been prescribed for you because other medicines for the treatment of arrhythmias are unsuitable.

Amiodarone works by correcting the rhythm of your heart and by slowing your heart if it is beating too fast.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking amiodarone it is important that your doctor or pharmacist knows:

  • If you have heart failure or any heart problems other than your abnormal heart rhythm.
  • If you have prostate, liver or kidney problems.
  • If you have ever had problems with your thyroid.
  • If you have a pacemaker fitted.
  • If you have glaucoma (increased pressure in your eye).
  • If you have been told you have myasthenia gravis (a condition causing muscle weakness), or porphyria (a rare inherited blood disorder).
  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding.
  • If you are taking or using any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to any medicine. It is important that you tell your doctor if you know you are allergic to iodine.
  • Before you start this treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside your pack. The leaflet will give you more information about amiodarone, and a full list of possible side-effects from taking it.
  • Your doctor will tell you what the right dose of amiodarone is for you, and this dose will also be on the label of your pack. It is usual to take 200 mg three times a day for the first week, then 200 mg twice a day for the second week. Your dose may then be reduced to 200 mg each day from the third week. It is very important that you take amiodarone exactly as your doctor tells you to. If you are not sure what dose to take, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
  • Try to take your doses of amiodarone at the same times each day, as this will help you to remember to take them. You may take amiodarone before or after food.
  • If you do forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember (unless it is nearly time for your next dose, in which case leave out the missed dose). Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.
  • If you normally drink grapefruit juice regularly, please let your doctor know about this. This is because a chemical in grapefruit juice may increase the amount of amiodarone in your bloodstream, making side-effects more likely.
  • Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check your heart rhythm and monitor your progress. Your doctor will also want to do some blood tests while you are on amiodarone to check your liver and thyroid function.
  • If you drink alcohol, ask your doctor for advice about drinking while you are on amiodarone. Alcohol may increase the chance that you experience side-effects and may not be recommended for you.
  • Your doctor is likely to recommend that you have an eyesight test each year. This is because you may develop deposits in your eyes. This is not likely to affect your vision, but if you are a driver you may find that you are dazzled by headlights if you drive at night.
  • Taking amiodarone is likely to cause your skin to become more sensitive to sunlight than normal. Whenever you go out in strong sunlight (even if it is for a relatively short period of time), use a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 and also protects your skin against UVA light. Also, do not use sunbeds.
  • Treatment with amiodarone is usually long-term unless you experience an adverse effect. You should continue to take it unless you are advised otherwise.
  • If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment that you are taking amiodarone.
  • If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are safe to take with amiodarone. This is because many medicines can interfere with amiodarone.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. These usually improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side-effects continue or become troublesome.

Common amiodarone side-effects - these affect around 1 in 10 people who take this medicine What can I do if I experience this?
Blurred vision If this happens, do not drive or use tools or machines
Feeling either extremely tired and weak, or extremely restless and agitated Speak with your doctor about this. You may need to have your thyroid checked
Feeling or being sick Eat simple meals - avoid rich or spicy food. Taking your doses after you have eaten some food may help
Blue or grey marks on areas of your skin exposed to the sun Ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable sunscreen to protect your skin. (This colouring will usually fade when you stop taking amiodarone)
Changes in the way things taste, feeling shaky, nightmares and difficulties sleeping If any of these become troublesome, speak with your doctor

Important: if you experience any of the following rare but possibly serious symptoms, contact your doctor for advice straightaway:

  • Any difficulties breathing, or if you develop an unexplained cough.
  • Any yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes. These could be signs of a problem developing in your liver.
  • A severe skin rash. This could be a sign of an allergic reaction.

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to amiodarone, discuss them with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.
  • Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.
  • This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.
  • Never keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.
  • If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

  • British National Formulary; 63rd Edition (Mar 2012) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London
  • Manufacturer's PIL, Cordarone® 100 mg and 200 mg Tablets; Manufacturer's PIL, Cordarone® 100 mg and 200 mg Tablets, sanofi-aventis, The electronic medicines Compendium. Dated March 2011.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Adrian Bonsall
Document ID:
3263 (v23)
Last Checked:
13/06/2012
Next Review:
13/06/2015
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