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Propafenone (Propafenone Hydrochloride) - Description and Clinical Pharmacology


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Propafenone hydrochloride is an antiarrhythmic drug supplied in scored, film-coated tablets of 150, 225 and 300 mg for oral administration. Propafenone has some structural similarities to beta-blocking agents.

The structural formula of propafenone hydrochloride is given below:

2'-[2-Hydroxy-3-(propylamino)-propoxy]-3-phenylpropiophenone hydrochloride

Propafenone hydrochloride occurs as colorless crystals or white crystalline powder with a very bitter taste. It is slightly soluble in water (20°C), chloroform and ethanol. The following inactive ingredients are contained in the tablet: carnauba wax, hypromellose, magnesium stearate, polydextrose, polyethylene glycol, polysorbate 80, povidone, pregelatinized starch (corn), propylene glycol, sodium starch glycolate, titanium dioxide, and triacetin.


Mechanism of Action

Propafenone is a Class 1C antiarrhythmic drug with local anesthetic effects, and a direct stabilizing action on myocardial membranes. The electrophysiological effect of propafenone manifests itself in a reduction of upstroke velocity (Phase 0) of the monophasic action potential. In Purkinje fibers, and to a lesser extent myocardial fibers, propafenone reduces the fast inward current carried by sodium ions. Diastolic excitability threshold is increased and effective refractory period prolonged. Propafenone reduces spontaneous automaticity and depresses triggered activity.

Studies in anesthetized dogs and isolated organ preparations show that propafenone has beta-sympatholytic activity at about 1/50 the potency of propranolol. Clinical studies employing isoproterenol challenge and exercise testing after single doses of propafenone indicate a beta-adrenergic blocking potency (per mg) about 1/40 that of propranolol in man. In clinical trials, resting heart rate decreases of about 8% were noted at the higher end of the therapeutic plasma concentration range. At very high concentrations in vitro, propafenone can inhibit the slow inward current carried by calcium, but this calcium antagonist effect probably does not contribute to antiarrhythmic efficacy. Propafenone has local anesthetic activity approximately equal to procaine.


Electrophysiology studies in patients with ventricular tachycardia (VT) have shown that propafenone HCl prolongs atrioventricular (AV) conduction while having little or no effect on sinus node function. Both AV nodal conduction time (AH interval) and His-Purkinje conduction time (HV interval) are prolonged. Propafenone has little or no effect on the atrial functional refractory period, but AV nodal functional and effective refractory periods are prolonged. In patients with Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome, propafenone reduces conduction and increases the effective refractory period of the accessory pathway in both directions. Propafenone slows conduction and consequently produces dose-related changes in the PR interval and QRS duration. QTc interval does not change.

Mean Changes in ECG IntervalsChange and percent change based on mean baseline values for each treatment group.
Total Daily Dose (mg)
337.5 mg 450 mg 675 mg 900 mg
Interval msec % msec % msec % msec %
RR −14.5 −1.8 30.6 3.8 31.5 3.9 41.7 5.1
PR 3.6 2.1 19.1 11.6 28.9 17.8 35.6 21.9
QRS 5.6 6.4 5.5 6.1 7.7 8.4 15.6 17.3
QTc 2.7 0.7 −7.5 −1.8 5.0 1.2 14.7 3.7

In any individual patient, the above ECG changes cannot be readily used to predict either efficacy or plasma concentration.

Propafenone causes a dose-related and concentration-related decrease in the rate of single and multiple premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) and can suppress recurrence of ventricular tachycardia. Based on the percent of patients attaining substantial (80–90%) suppression of ventricular ectopic activity, it appears that trough plasma levels of 0.2 to 1.5 µg/mL can provide good suppression, with higher concentrations giving a greater rate of good response.

When 600 mg/day propafenone was administered to patients with paroxysmal atrial tachyarrhythmias, mean heart rate during arrhythmia decreased 14 beats/min and 37 beats/min for paroxysmal atrial fibrillation/flutter (PAF) patients and paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) patients, respectively.


Sympathetic stimulation may be a vital component supporting circulatory function in patients with congestive heart failure, and its inhibition by the beta blockade produced by propafenone HCl may in itself aggravate congestive heart failure.

Additionally, like other Class 1C antiarrhythmic drugs, studies in humans have shown that propafenone HCl exerts a negative inotropic effect on the myocardium. Cardiac catheterization studies in patients with moderately impaired ventricular function (mean C.I. = 2.61 L/min/m2) utilizing intravenous propafenone infusions (2 mg/kg over 10 min+2 mg/min for 30 min) that gave mean plasma concentrations of 3.0 µg/mL (well above the therapeutic range of 0.2–1.5 µg/mL) showed significant increases in pulmonary capillary wedge pressure, systemic and pulmonary vascular resistances and depression of cardiac output and cardiac index.

Pharmacokinetics and Metabolism

Propafenone HCl is nearly completely absorbed after oral administration with peak plasma levels occurring approximately 3.5 hours after administration in most individuals. Propafenone exhibits extensive saturable presystemic biotransformation (first pass effect) resulting in a dose dependent and dosage form dependent absolute bioavailability; e.g., a 150 mg tablet had absolute bioavailability of 3.4%, while a 300 mg tablet had absolute bioavailability of 10.6%. A 300 mg solution which was rapidly absorbed, had absolute bioavailability of 21.4%. At still larger doses, above those recommended, bioavailability increases still further. Decreased liver function also increases bioavailability; bioavailability is inversely related to indocyanine green clearance reaching 60–70% at clearances of 7 mL/min and below. The clearance of propafenone is reduced and the elimination half-life increased in patients with significant hepatic dysfunction (see PRECAUTIONS).

Propafenone HCl follows a nonlinear pharmacokinetic disposition presumably due to saturation of first pass hepatic metabolism as the liver is exposed to higher concentrations of propafenone and shows a very high degree of interindividual variability. For example, for a three-fold increase in daily dose from 300 to 900 mg/day there is a tenfold increase in steady-state plasma concentration. The top 25% of patients given 375 mg/day, however, had a mean concentration of propafenone larger than the bottom 25%, and about equal to the second 25%, of patients given a dose of 900 mg. Although food increased peak blood level and bioavailability in a single dose study, during multiple dose administration of propafenone to healthy volunteers food did not change bioavailability significantly.

There are two genetically determined patterns of propafenone metabolism. In over 90% of patients, the drug is rapidly and extensively metabolized with an elimination half-life from 2–10 hours. These patients metabolize propafenone into two active metabolites: 5-hydroxypropafenone which is formed by CYP2D6 and N-depropylpropafenone which is formed by both CYP3A4 and CYP1A2.

In vitro preparations have shown these two metabolites to have antiarrhythmic activity comparable to propafenone but in man they both are usually present in concentrations less than 20% of propafenone. Nine additional metabolites have been identified, most in only trace amounts. It is the saturable hydroxylation pathway that is responsible for nonlinear pharmacokinetic disposition.

In less than 10% of patients (and in any patient also receiving quinidine, see PRECAUTIONS), metabolism of propafenone is slower because the 5-hydroxy metabolite is not formed or is minimally formed. The estimated propafenone elimination half-life ranges from 10–32 hours. Decreased ability to form the 5-hydroxy metabolite of propafenone is associated with a diminished ability to metabolize debrisoquine and a variety of other drugs (encainide, metoprolol, dextromethorphan). In these patients, the N-depropylpropafenone occurs in quantities comparable to the levels occurring in extensive metabolizers. In slow metabolizers propafenone pharmacokinetics are linear.

There are significant differences in plasma concentrations of propafenone in slow and extensive metabolizers, the former achieving concentrations 1.5 to 2.0 times those of the extensive metabolizers at daily doses of 675–900 mg/day. At low doses the differences are greater, with slow metabolizers attaining concentrations more than five times that of extensive metabolizers. Because the difference decreases at high doses and is mitigated by the lack of the active 5-hydroxy metabolite in the slow metabolizers, and because steady-state conditions are achieved after 4–5 days of dosing in all patients, the recommended dosing regimen is the same for all patients. The greater variability in blood levels require that the drug be titrated carefully in patients with close attention paid to clinical and ECG evidence of toxicity (See DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION).

In vitro and in vivo studies have shown that the R-isomer of propafenone is cleared faster than the S-isomer via the 5-hydroxylation pathway (CYP2D6). This results in a higher ratio of S-propafenone during steady state.

Clinical Trials

In two randomized, crossover, placebo-controlled, double-blind trials of 60–90 days duration in patients with paroxysmal supraventricular arrhythmias [paroxysmal atrial fibrillation/flutter (PAF), or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT)], propafenone reduced the rate of both arrhythmias, as shown in the following table:

Study 1 Study 2
Propafenone Placebo Propafenone Placebo
PAF n=30 n=30 n=9 n=9
  Percent attack free 53% 13% 67% 22%
  Median time to first recurrence >98 days 8 days 62 days 5 days
PSVT n=45 n=45 n=15 n=15
  Percent attack free 47% 16% 38% 7%
  Median time to first recurrence >98 days 12 days 31 days 8 days

The patient population in the above trials was 50% male with a mean age of 57.3 years. Fifty percent of the patients had a diagnosis of PAF and 50% had PSVT. Eighty percent of the patients received 600 mg/day propafenone. No patient died in the above 2 studies.

In U.S. long-term safety trials, 474 patients (mean age: 57.4 ± 14.5 years) with supraventricular arrhythmias [195 with PAF, 274 with PSVT and 5 with both PAF and PSVT] were treated up to 5 years (mean: 14.4 months) with propafenone. Fourteen of the patients died. When this mortality rate was compared to the rate in a similar patient population (n=194 patients; mean age: 43.0 ± 16.8 years) studied in an arrhythmia clinic, there was no age-adjusted difference in mortality. This comparison was not, however, a randomized trial and the 95% confidence interval around the comparison was large, such that neither a significant adverse or favorable effect could be ruled out.

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