The cardiac arrhythmia suppression trial: Background, interim results and implications
Drug Utilization Review
Practice Patterns, Physicians'
Ventricular Dysfunction, Left
The Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST) was designed to test the hypothesis that suppression of ventricular premature complexes (VPCs) in survivors of acute myocardial infarction would reduce arrhythmic death risk. Instead, a preliminary finding from the CAST was that the encainide and flecainide groups had a 3.6-fold increase in arrhythmic death compared with their placebo group. These unfortunate results were especially surprising in that the CAST population represented patients in whom the risk of arrhythmic death was only moderate and the risk of proarrhythmia was thought to be low. In contrast, the arrhythmic death rate of the CAST placebo group was unusually low, to the extent that it paralleled the arrhythmic death rate in previous clinical trials of patients surviving myocardial infarction with no ventricular arrhythmia. The excessive arrhythmic death rate in patients taking encainide and flecainide occurred over the duration of the CAST, implying a proarrhythmic effect that may be due to mechanisms that are unique in this population, and thus challenging traditional concepts of proarrhythmia. The existing knowledge regarding the proarrhythmic and negative inotropic effects of encainide and flecainide are reviewed. The previous pharmaceutical database experience with these 2 antiarrhythmic drugs exceeded 3,000 patients; however, there was no indication of this serious proarrhythmic effect. In contrast, the CAST population taking encainide and flecainide totaled only 725 patients who were followed for 10 months and had an extremely high proarrhythmic event rate. The reasons for this discrepancy are discussed. The results of the CAST emphasize the power of a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial to uncover previously unsuspected benefits or liabilities of traditional therapies.