Navigating the Minefield of QTc Interval-Prolonging Therapy in Nursing Facility Residents

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


External Institution(s)

  • University of Maryland, Baltimore


Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
StatusPublished - Jan 1 2019


BACKGROUND: The exponential increase in the number of medications associated with clinically important prolongation of the heart rate-corrected QT interval (QTc) places older adults at increased risk of arrhythmias including life-threatening torsade de pointes (TdP) and sudden death. Risk factors, other than age older than 65 years and female sex, include multiple concurrent drugs that prolong QTc and a variety of underlying predisposing conditions. Although electronic medical records and pharmacy dispensing systems can alert clinicians to the risk of QTc-prolonging therapy, more than 95% of safety alerts are overridden, and many systems have deactivated QTc drug interaction alerts. The clinical consequences, magnitude of the effect, mitigation strategies, and recommended monitoring are not well defined for nursing facility (NF) residents. DESIGN: Narrative review. SETTING: NFs in the United States. PARTICIPANTS: NF residents. RESULTS: Medications known to prolong QTc include selected anti-infectives, antidepressants, urinary anticholinergics, antipsychotics, and cholinesterase inhibitors (eg, donepezil), used commonly in NFs. Drug-drug interactions are a risk when adding a medication that exaggerates the effect or inhibits the metabolism of a QTc-prolonging medication. The vast majority of patients in whom TdP is induced by noncardiac drugs have risk factors that are easily identifiable. CONCLUSIONS: Recommendations are provided to improve standardization and use of drug interaction alerts, evaluate the risk of QTc-prolonging drugs in older adults receiving generally lower doses, validate a QTc risk score addressing complex multimorbidity, garner evidence to guide clinical decision making, avail NFs of access to electrocardiograms and interpretive recommendations, and develop standards of practice for hosting risk discussions with residents and their families. J Am Geriatr Soc, 1–8, 2019.

    Research areas

  • QTc interval prolongation, electrocardiogram, nursing facility, older adult, polypharmacy, torsade de pointes