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Prevention of Ventricular Fibrillation, Acute Myocardial Infarction (Myocardial Necrosis), Heart Failure, and Mortality by Bretylium: Is Ischemic Heart Disease Primarily Adrenergic Cardiovascular Disease?

Bacaner, Marvin1*; Brietenbucher, James2; LaBree, John2

Therapeutic Reviews

It is widely, but mistakenly, believed that ischemic heart disease (IsHD) and its complications are the sole and direct result of reduced coronary blood flow by obstructive coronary artery disease (CAD). However, cardiac angina, acute myocardial infarction (AMI), and sudden cardiac death (SCD) occur in 15%–20% of patients with anatomically unobstructed and grossly normal coronaries. Moreover, severe obstructive coronary disease often occurs without associated pathologic myocardiopathy or prior symptoms, ie, unexpected sudden death, silent myocardial infarction, or the insidious appearance of congestive heart failure (CHF). The fact that catecholamines explosively augment oxidative metabolism much more than cardiac work is generally underappreciated. Thus, adrenergic actions alone are likely to be more prone to cause cardiac ischemia than reduced coronary blood flow per se. The autonomic etiology of IsHD raises contradictions to the traditional concept of anatomically obstructive CAD as the lone cause of cardiac ischemia and AMI. Actually, all the signs and symptoms of IsHD reflect autonomic nervous system imbalance, particularly adrenergic hyperactivity, which may by itself cause ischemia as in rest angina. Adrenergic activity causing ischemia signals cardiac pain to pain centers via sympathetic efferent pathways and tend to induce arrhythmogenic and necrotizing ischemic actions on the cardiovascular system. This may result in ischemia induced metabolic myocardiopathy not unlike that caused by anatomic or spasmogenic coronary obstruction. The clinical study and review presented herein suggest that adrenergic hyperactivity alone without CAD can be a primary cause of IsHD. Thus, adrenergic heart disease (AdHD), or actually adrenergic cardiovascular heart disease (ACVHD), appears to be a distinct entity, most commonly but not necessarily occurring in parallel with CAD. CAD certainly contributes to vulnerability as well as the progression of IsHD. This vicious cycle, which explains the frequent parallel occurrence of arteriosclerosis and IHD, an association that appears to be linked by the same cause, comprises a common vulnerability to deleterious adrenergic actions on the myocardium, lipid metabolism, and vascular system alike, rather than viewing CAD and IsHD as having a putative cause and effect relationship as commonly thought. Adrenergic actions can also cause the abnormal lipid metabolism that is associated with CAD and IsHD by catecholamine-induced metabolic actions on lipid mobilization by activation of phospholipases. This may also be part of toxic catecholamine hypermetabolic actions by enhancing deleterious cholesterol and lipid actions in damaging coronary vessels by plaque formation as well as inducing obstructive coronary spasm and platelet aggregation. This may also cause direct toxic necrosis on the myocardium as well as atherosclerosis in blood vessels. In fact, drugs that inhibit adrenergic actions like propranolol, reserpine, and guanethidine all inhibit arteriosclerosis induced by hypercholesterolemia in experimental animals and prevent carotid vascular disease (associated with stroke) in humans. The concomitant development of myocardiopathy and coronary vascular lesions or coronary and carotid artery intimal medial thickening by catecholamine toxicity is reflected by the frequent primary presentation of patients with catecholamine-secreting pheochromocytoma with cardiovascular disease, ie, hypertension arrhythmias, AMI, SCD, CHF, and vascular disease, which represents a clear example of the primary deleterious impact of catecholamines on the entire cardiovascular system causing adrenergic cardiovascular disease. Thus, like myocardiopathy, CAD and atherosclerosis in general may be the consequences of or a complication of catecholamine actions rather than its putative cause. This report shows how prophylactic bretylium not only prevents arrhythmias but prevents myocardial necrosis, shock, CHF, maintains or restores normal contractility, and lowers mortality in AMI patients by inducing adrenergic blockade.

1Departments of Physiology and Kinesiology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and 2Fairview, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The co-authors participated in the gathering and analysis of the clinical studies that were finished in 1971. They have no part in the review, which reflects primarily Dr. Bacaner’s own views and interpretation of the literature and data. Dr. LaBree has responded positively to the paper. Dr. Brietenbucher has left clinical medicine and has not responded to the latest manuscript.

*Address for correspondence: 2900 Thomas Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55416. E-mail:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.