Several quinoline and structurally related antimalarial drugs are associated with cardiovascular side effects, particularly hypotension and electrocardiographic QT interval prolongation. A prolonged QT interval is a sensitive but not specific risk marker for the development of Torsade de Pointes-a potentially lethal polymorphic ventricular tachyarrhythmia. The increasing use of quinoline and structurally related antimalarials in mass treatments to eliminate malaria rapidly highlights the need to review their cardiovascular safety profiles.
The primary objective of this systematic review was to describe the documented clinical and electrocardiographic cardiovascular side effects of quinine, mefloquine, lumefantrine, piperaquine, halofantrine, chloroquine, sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, amodiaquine, and primaquine. Trials in healthy subjects or patients with Plasmodium falciparum or P. vivax infection were included if at least two ECGs were conducted during the trial. All trial designs were included except case reports and pooled analyses. Secondary outcomes were the methods adopted by trials for measuring and reporting the QT interval.
Data from trials published between 1982 and July 2016 were included. A total of 177 trials met the inclusion criteria. 35,448 participants received quinoline antimalarials in these trials, of which 18,436 participants underwent ECG evaluation. Subjects with co-medication use or comorbidities including cardiovascular disease were excluded from the majority of trials. Dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine was the drug most studied (5083 participants). Despite enormous use over the past 60 years, only 1076, 452, and 150 patients had ECG recordings reported in studies of chloroquine, amodiaquine, and primaquine respectively. Transiently high concentrations of quinine, quinidine, and chloroquine following parenteral administration have all been associated with hypotension, but there were no documented reports of death or syncope attributable to a cardiovascular cause, nor of electrocardiographic recordings of ventricular arrhythmia in these trials. The large volume of missing outcome information and the heterogeneity of ECG interval reporting and measurement methodology did not allow pooled quantitative analysis of QT interval changes.
No serious cardiac adverse effects were recorded in malaria clinical trials of 35,548 participants who received quinoline and structurally related antimalarials with close follow-up including 18,436 individuals who underwent ECG evaluation. While these findings provide further evidence of the rarity of serious cardiovascular events after treatment with these drugs, they also underscore the need for continued strengthening of pharmacovigilance systems for robust detection of rare drug adverse events in real-world populations. A standardised approach to measurement and reporting of ECG data in malaria trials is also needed.