Posts Tagged ‘atropine’

It is  a well proven concept   beta adrenergic blockers have a useful role in controlling   the  frequency, and intensity  of  vaso- vagal syncope .

One may wonder how an anti adrenergic drug help to counter hyper vagotonia syndrome !

This is because  during  vaso -vagal  syncope ,  the  inital trigger is  sympathetic . A   sudden hyper adrenergic  surge occurs   that stimulate the vagus, ( Which  overshoots the   initial  quantum of adrenergic signal)   and  cause a systemic vasodilatation ,  hypotension and bradycardia.

How does adrenergic surge stimulate the  vagus?

By two ways

  • Brain stem spill over effect in medulla (Vasomotor to tractus solitarius)
  • Cardiac  stretch caused  by hyperadrenergic activity . This stretch initiates a  vagal reflex  especially from  the base of the heart (Similar to Bazold Zarish reflex ). This  mechanism is  thought to be more important than brain stem spill over  , that’s why  it is referred to as  neuro-cardiogenic syncope .

How does beta blocker help?

  1.  It   sedates  the  adrenergic centre which  modulates the trigger  .It  also blocks the  sympathetic  afferent limb of the syncope circuit.
  2.  Anxiety  and panic reactions are close associate’s of vaso- vagal syncope. They are  not only  considered as  prodrome for syncope  but also act as  important triggers.This is effectively tackled by beta blockers .
  3. Finally , beta blockers  soothes the mycardial  stretch  receptors by reducing the  ventricular shear stress (Reduced contractility and wall stress )  hence neuro-cardiogenic  axis is  pacified.

It is important to remember beta blcokers can only  prevent/  reduce  episodes  of  vaso vagal syncope. It  may aggravate  the situation   if administered  shortly  after the event , as bradycardia and hypotension  is dominant  in the recovery phases.

*During an episode of vaso vagal syncope atropine group  of drugs is most useful .

Which beta blocker ?

Propronolol is the prototype  as it has non selectivity and good penetrance  of  blood brain  barrier ,  which is  the most appropriate site for suppressing hyper adrenergic drive.

Cardio selective beta blockers  do have a role as cardiac stretch  receptors is  one of the two target sites .

Final message

Ironically ,   in the long term management of  vaso-vagal syncope , anti adrenergic drugs  have a major role  rather than atropine like drugs .

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atropine leafsAtropine ,  the extract from the  Belladona  plant  is an important cardiovascular  drug. It’s  presence is vital  in every crash carts .  This  unassuming molecule  probably has   saved more cardiac lifes than any other drug . It provides immediate  remedy for many of the bradycardias .It  works like a magic.  The physician buys  time with this molecule  and  proceed  on to resuscitate or  plan other interventional  procedures. It is most powerful antiarrhytmic agent known .It is an irony , many of  the standard cardiac texts do not even mention this while discussing anti arrhythmic agents .

In  this  era of  hyped  cardiac  care   , the  sartans ,  2b3a inhitors   , the fondaparinux’s  making merry !  we  have no spare time  to realise  ,   more  cardiac  deaths  have been prevented by atropine  than  all these   drugs    put together.  It is still working like a bull  across the coronary care units and cath lab world over. While  many mediocre  drugs  enjoy a  big  bash  time for  possibly  saving   few occasional  lives   , the atropine  like drugs never get the due recognition among cardiac literature for the simple reason ,  it being a  cheap  generic drug.This drug is available  for few  rupees , no marketing no advertisements, no celebrations.

Mechanism of action

The  biochemical  mediator :  Acetyl choline

Site of action :     It blocks the M2 (Muscaranic receptors) .

We will confine to the cardiovascular  actions.

  • SA nodal acceleration
  • AV nodal accelerated conduction

Effect on ECG

Sinus tachycardia

Short PR interval

Life saving situations in cath labs  in CCU.

Vagus  nerve richly innervate the heart and blood vessels . Acute coronary syndromes   especially involving the infero posterior territory  raises the vagal tone  , and can  in severe bradycardia and hypotension.  In cath labs , as we  manipulate  cardiac  structures with wires and  catheters  there is always  a potential to elicit the vascular reflex .It can occur  any where between the  access point , femoral or radial  artery to coronary arteries .

Further ,  whenever the  pain  intensity is more , the  central pain integrating  centre in  brain stem  and thalamus has a spill over effect into the vagal nucleus .

What happens if a vaso vagal reaction is left untreated ?

We have often  made  the term “vaso vagal  reaction” appear as an  innocuous  entity. The main reason for this perception is   due to the common occurrence of  “vaso vagal  syncopewhich  is largely a benign entity in the general population .This fact  has sensitised our brains . One should distinctly realise the vaso vagal syncope that occurs in  healthy people standing  in erect posture ,  from  vagal reactions that  occurs in  lying patient with a diseased heart  in a  cath  lab  or CCU.In the classical vaso vagal syncope , assuming the recumbent posture is the treatment and it  counters the hemodyanmic imbalance .No drug is required here. So the common vagal syncope can never be compared with potentially dangerous  vagal reflex that occur in CCUs and cath labs. If not recognised earlier and  immediately countered  it can lead on to asystole and death .Many of  the delayed deaths post PCI during sheath removal or an episode of vomiting are directly related to this.


Atropine is the Savior here . Can you imagine a  world without atropine .

The other reason we had always considered vaso vagal   reactions lightly is that the poor atropine is always available  in the side selfs and it acts   rapidly  and promptly with almost  100 % success  reversing the vagal action  in less than  60 seconds .

How often we here  this  “Oh it’s a brady . . . push  2cc atropine . . .  given sir, the rate has picked up . . .”

If only atropine has a failure rate of say  50%    we  would have  realised the full impact of   vaso vagal shocks (See … how we struggle with No reflow   with no effective drug available !)

Is there any other alternative  treatment  for vaso vagal shock other  than atropine ?

No.   (I guess so . . .Readers may correct me )

Other uses of atropine in cardiac practice

  • During stress testing along with dobutamine  to  increase the heart rate.
  • It can be used to differentiate AV blocks the two types of 2nd degree AV block. The mobitz type 2 worsens while type one accelerates.

Non cardiac uses.

Ophthalmology, pre anesthetic medication, bronchial asthma, various poisoning.

What is the future for this molecule ?

Remain bright .  But only very  few companies make this molecule.  It is a drug that can not  fill the cash boxes but  it is a drug to keep the human heart running at times of crises  . The only  threat to this drug  is  the  possibility of it being replaced with a  modified patented  version of this great  molecule  !

Final message

The evolution of medicine is based on strong foundations  put upon by clinical acumen   by great medical men of  past generation. Atropine was developed by such people   and it has withstood the test of time. This drug  probably  has saved ( and  continue to  save)  many  lives  than any  other drug  in cardiology . It should be recalled ,  another great cardiac drug   called digoxin  has almost succumbed to modern medical  forces  .Let us  keep developing   new molecules  ,  we shall also pay  tributes  to some of   the  unassuming drugs in cardiology .

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Conduction disturbance is a fairly common occurrence following  MI. Inferior STEMI is especially prone for AV blocks. This is because  the  blood supply to AV nodal  tissues and the inferoposterior surface of the heart  share the same arterial territory . AV node gets it supply  90% of time by right coronary artery(RCA )  and 10% by  LCX. Very rarely from both .

The common bradyarrhytmias that we encounter in inferior MI are

Sinus bradycardia

Sinus pauses ,SA blocks

AV blocks






ECG types

1  degree AV block

2 degree  AV block – Type 1 Wenke bach

Complete heart blcok


The inferior aspect of the heart has rich innervation of vagal nerve terminals (While the  sympathetic adrenergic system is concentrated in the anterior surface) . The moment infero posterior MI occur it stimualtes the vagus and a prompt bradycardic response occur .Many times the classical hypotension /bradycardia reaction is simply a reflection of heightened vagal tone.

Consequence of vagal tone on SA nodal and AV nodal conduction

As expected, vagal stimulation can result in a spectrum of arrhythmias from the  simple bradycardia to complete SA block  to  AV block. Extreme bradycardia , may release the junctional pace maker and result in junctional rhythm with a rate of around 40-50. There can be a functional AV dissociation between SA node and AV node. Careful ECG analysis is required here ,  as it can mimic organic AV block.The simple way to differentiate between organic AV block from simple AV dissociation is to look at the p waves.In AV dissociation both atrial rate and ventricular rate are nearly equal or VR  is slightly more than AR .In CHB atrial rate  exceeds ventricular  rate.

SA and AV block occur due to various mechanisms in inferior  MI

  • High vagal tone
  • Ischemia of SA/AV node
  • Necrosis of AV node
  • Drug effects -Like morphine
  • Reperfusion bradycardia*

Ischemic AV nodal arrhythmias are  some times very difficult to differentiate from vagotonia especially if occur within 24h.

Irreversible AV nodal block due to necrosis is rare.But if occur , usually  associated with extensive inferior mI/RVMI/ .AV block  that  persist beyond 48-72hours should raise the suspicion of damage to AV node.( As vagal tone is very unlikely;y to last beyond 48h)

* Some time a an episode of sudden severe  bradycardia  can be manifestation of RCA reperfusion.Flushing of SA nodal or AV nodal branch of RCA might trigger this. This has a potential  to  bring the heart to asystole.The resultant extreme bradycardia often triggers VT/VF .The reported high incidence of primary VF in infero posterior MI is attributed to this sudden RCA perfusion.

Medical management for CHB

Brady arrhythmia’s due to high vagal tone are generally benign .No specific intervention is required.Atropine will be suffice in most situations.Some times isoprenaline may be required. Aminophyline , now Ivabradine may have a role. Atropine not only corrects the HR it raises the BP also as  it counters  both cardioinhibitory and  vasodepressive  limbs of vagal stimulus mediated by  acetyl choline .

Pacing for Bradycardias in inferior MI.

  • Generally not necessary for sinus bradycardia.
  • Few with CHB require it
  • Persistent hypotension and RVMI  needs it often.(Dual chamber temporary pacing preferred as AV synchrony is vital here.)

Weaning of temporary pacing in inferior MI.

This could be a tricky issue. It can be weaned off in less than a week.A practical way is to use temporary pacing  only in back up mode at a heart rate of few beats less than the patients rhythm.Pacing for long hours  at high rates may delay the resumption of patients own rhythm and may result in false diagnosis of irreversible CHB and a subsequent PPM

How many will require permanent pacing following infero posterior MI ?

Only a fraction of patients with CHB require long term pacing . There are some centres tend to overuse PPM in this situation. Wait and watch policy may be the best.A unnecessary lead  within a  infarcted ventricle  has a potential to create problems .There have been  occasions a stable RV MI has been destabilised due to RV pacing lead triggered recurrent VF.

Tachycardias in inferior MI

It is relatively uncommon.Atrial involvement is more common with infero posterior MI and hence a greater incidence of atrial fibrillation .

RV MI can induce ventricular tachycardia arising  from the RV myocardium

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