A Closer Look at a Cardiac Drug’s Ocular Side Effects

A Closer Look at a Cardiac Drug’s Ocular Side Effects

Doctors widely use amiodarone, a potent antiarrhythmic medication, to manage and treat various cardiac arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia. While its efficacy in stabilizing heart rhythms is well-documented, amiodarone’s impact on the eyes is a topic of significant clinical interest. This article explores the intricate relationship between amiodarone and eye disorders, highlighting the potential ocular side effects and the mechanisms behind them.

Amiodarone: A double-edged sword

Amiodarone’s complex pharmacokinetics result in therapeutic benefits in cardiology, but they also produce a notable profile of side effects. The drug has a large volume of distribution and a long half-life, often leading to accumulation in various tissues, including the cornea, lens, and retina. These deposits can cause several ocular side effects, some benign and others more concerning.

Corneal microdeposits as a common ocular side effects

One of the most frequent ocular side effects of amiodarone is the development of corneal microdeposits, also known as vortex keratopathy or corneal verticillata. A slit-lamp examination can observe these deposits as whorl-like patterns on the corneal surface. While corneal microdeposits occur in nearly all patients taking amiodarone for extended periods, they are usually asymptomatic and do not significantly impair vision.

The drug’s lipophilic nature enables it to integrate into the corneal epithelial cells, forming complex intracytoplasmic inclusions, believed to be the mechanism behind these deposits. Despite their alarming appearance, these deposits rarely necessitate discontinuation of the drug.

Case study from medical literature

Noteworthy cases published in medical literature and highlighted by DrugCard shed light on the critical importance of recognizing amiodarone’s ocular side effects. These cases highlight the need for healthcare providers to monitor patients taking amiodarone closely for potential eye problems. Additionally, they emphasize the importance of adjusting treatment as needed to prevent long-term complications.

Patient #1

A 63-year-old patient reported feeling like there was something in both eyes and experiencing decreased vision. He has been taking amiodarone (200 mg for two years) for ventricular premature beats and has had episodes of atrial fibrillation over the past year. An eye exam revealed fine greyish lines on his corneas (Hudson-Stehli lines), no staining with fluorescein, clear iris patterns, reactive pupils, and clear lenses. The back of his eyes appeared normal for his age, with some signs of angiosclerosis. Therefore, doctors diagnosed the patient with amiodarone-induced keratopathy in both eyes.

Patient #2

A 69-year-old patient reported a foreign body sensation in both eyes and decreased vision. He had been taking amiodarone for three years to prevent episodes of atrial fibrillation, but the medication was ineffective due to a vagal mechanism underlying his arrhythmia. He experienced episodes several times a week. An eye exam (biomicroscopy) revealed thin greyish lines (Hudson-Stähli lines) in the lower cornea, a clear iris pattern, and nuclear sclerosis in the lens. Ophthalmoscopy showed a pale pink optic disc with clear borders, yellowish dystrophic spots in the macula, and sclerosed arteries. The diagnosis confirmed amiodarone-induced keratopathy and phacosclerosis in both eyes.

Optic neuropathy as a serious ocular side effect

A more serious, though less common, ocular side effect of amiodarone is optic neuropathy. This condition involves damage to the optic nerve, potentially leading to vision loss. Symptoms can include visual field defects, reduced visual acuity, and, in severe cases, blindness.

The exact mechanism by which amiodarone causes optic neuropathy is not entirely understood. However, it is hypothesized that mitochondrial toxicity and disruption of axonal transport within the optic nerve will be involved. Given the potential severity of this condition, regular ophthalmic monitoring is recommended for patients on long-term amiodarone therapy.

Lens changes: An added complexity

Amiodarone has also been associated with anterior subcapsular lens deposits, typically yellow-brown opacities visible upon slit-lamp examination. These deposits can resemble cataracts, although they rarely progress to the point of significantly impairing vision. The presence of lens deposits underscores the importance of comprehensive eye examinations for patients on amiodarone.

Managing the risk of ocular side effects

Given the potential for serious ocular side effects, clinicians prescribing amiodarone should be vigilant in monitoring their patients’ eye health. Recommendations include:

  1. Baseline eye examination: Before initiating amiodarone therapy, a thorough baseline eye examination should be conducted to document any pre-existing conditions.
  2. Regular follow-up: Periodic ophthalmic evaluations (every 6-12 months) are crucial for early detection of adverse effects. These evaluations should include visual acuity assessments, slit-lamp examination, and visual field testing.
  3. Patient education: Patients should be informed about amiodarone’s potential ocular side effects and advised to report any vision changes promptly.


While amiodarone remains a cornerstone in managing cardiac arrhythmias, its ocular side effects highlight the need for a multidisciplinary approach to patient care. By understanding the potential risks and implementing proactive monitoring strategies, healthcare providers can mitigate the impact of these side effects. This ensures that patients receive the full benefit of this vital medication without compromising their vision.

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