Preventing arrhythmias and QTc prolongation in COVID-19 patients on psychotropics


Treatment recommendations

1. Establish a baseline EKG

A baseline 12-lead EKG is the standard of care for patients currently being screened for COVID-19. It is necessary to rule out the presence of an underlying cardiovascular disease or a rhythm irregularity. A prolonged QTc interval is generally regarded as being around greater than 450-470 msecs with variations attributable to gender;11 numerous studies have affirmed that the risk of acquiring torsades de pointes is substantial when the QTc interval exceeds 500 msecs.12

2. Medical management and risk assessment

Commonly prescribed antipsychotics such as IV haloperidol and ziprasidone are known for exerting a negative effect on the interval and should readily be substituted with other agents in patients who are being treated for COVID-19; the combination of these antipsychotics alongside some COVID-19 medication regimens (for example, hydroxychloroquine/azithromycin) might prove to be fatal. The same logic applies to COVID-19 patients previously on antidepressant therapeutics such as citalopram and escitalopram.

3. Embrace an individually tailored approach to therapeutics

Dr. Zia Choudhry

Dr. Zia Choudhry

While American Psychiatric Association guidelines historically supported a cessation or reduction in the offending agent under normal circumstances,12 our team is recommending that the psychotropics associated with QTc interval prolongation are discontinued altogether (or substituted with a low-risk agent) in the event that a patient presents with suspected COVID-19. However, after the patients tests negative with COVID-19, they may resume therapy as indicated under the discretion of the mental health practitioner.


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Dr. Faisal A. Islam is medical adviser for the International Maternal and Child Health Foundation, Montreal, and is based in New York. He also is a postdoctoral fellow, psychopharmacologist, and a board-certified medical affairs specialist. Dr. Faisal Islam disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Dr. Mohammed Islam is affiliated with the department of psychiatry at the Interfaith Medical Center, New York. He disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Dr. Choudhry is the chief scientific officer and head of the department of mental health and clinical research at the International Maternal and Child Health Foundation. He disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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