A drug commonly used by anesthesiologists can cause fatal irregular heartbeats at lower doses than expected, prompting the government to urge doctors to try different medications. At issue is droperidol, a tranquilizer often used to treat the nausea many people feel after undergoing anesthesia.
Droperidol has long carried a warning that it could cause sudden cardiac death at high doses in patients at risk of irregular heartbeats. But the new warning says even standard low doses of droperidol can be dangerous, and thus doctors should try alternatives before using it. So the FDA issued warning and ordered manufacturer Akorn Pharmaceuticals to write thousands of doctors alerting them to the problem.
Apparently the drug can delay recharging of the heart between beats within minutes after a dose is administered. If the heart doesn't recover, it can go into a potentially fatal irregular beat. While apparently rare, the side effect is serious enough that anesthesiologists should reserve the drug for patients who don't respond to alternatives.