Phosphodiesterase III inhibitor class drugs taken orally and long term are associated with increased deaths in heart failure

A number of options are available to treat symptomatic chronic heart failure. These include ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers and spironolactone, which result in an increase of life expectancy. Another strategy is to increase the strength of the pumping action of the heart as with digitalis and with phosphodiesterase III inhibitors. The review clearly showed evidence that people treated for chronic heart failure for three months or more with phosphodiesterase III inhibitors were more likely to die than people given an inactive placebo treatment.

Authors' conclusions: 

Our results confirm that PDIs are responsible for an increase in mortality rate compared with placebo in patients suffering from chronic heart failure. Currently available results do not support the hypothesis that the increased mortality rate is due to additional vasodilator treatment. Consequently, the chronic use of PDIs should be avoided in heart failure patients.

Read the full abstract...

In the treatment of chronic heart failure, vasodilating agents, ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers have shown an increase of life expectancy. Another strategy is to increase the inotropic state of the myocardium : phosphodiesterase inhibitors (PDIs) act by increasing intra-cellular cyclic AMP, thereby increasing the concentration of intracellular calcium, and lead to a positive inotropic effect.


This overview on summarised data aims to review the data from all randomised controlled trials of PDIs III versus placebo in symptomatic patients with chronic heart failure. The primary endpoint is total mortality. Secondary endpoints are considered such as cause-specific mortality, worsening of heart failure (requiring intervention), myocardial infarction, arrhythmias and vertigos. We also examine whether the therapeutic effect is consistent in the subgroups based on the use of concomitant vasodilators, the severity of heart failure, and the type of PDI derivative and/or molecule. This overview updates our previous meta-analysis published in 1994.

Search strategy: 

Randomised trials of PDIs versus placebo in heart failure were searched using MEDLINE (1966 to 2004 January), EMBASE (1980 to 2003 December), Cochrane CENTRAL trials (The Cochrane Library Issue 1, 2004) and McMaster CVD trials registries, and through an exhaustive handsearching of international abstracting publications (abstracts published in the last 22 years in the "European Heart Journal", the "Journal of the American College of Cardiology" and "Circulation").

Selection criteria: 

All randomised controlled trials of PDIs versus placebo with a follow-up duration of more than three months.

Data collection and analysis: 

Twenty one trials (8408 patients) were eligible for inclusion in the review. Four specific PDI derivatives and eight molecules of PDIs have been considered.

Main results: 

As compared with placebo, treatment with PDIs was found to be associated with a significant 17% increased mortality rate (The relative risk was 1.17 (95% confidence interval 1.06 to 1.30; p< 0.001). In addition, PDIs significantly increase cardiac death, sudden death, arrhythmias and vertigos.
Considering mortality from all causes, the deleterious effect of PDIs appears homogeneous whatever the concomitant use (or non-use) of vasodilating agents, the severity of heart failure, the derivative or the molecule of PDI used.

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