Amiodarone is a powerful heart drug with extremely toxic side effects. Studies have found that 2% of patients experience vision loss, with permanent blindness occurring in many of these victims.
What is the problem?
Amiodarone is a toxic drug that is only supposed to be used as a last-resort medication for people with severe irregular heart rhythm. Instead, it is mostly prescribed “off-label” for unapproved conditions like atrial fibrillation.
Amiodarone and Blindness
Around 2% of amiodarone users develop vision loss, and 20% (one in five) of these victims go blind in at least one eye. Amiodarone is toxic to the optic nerve. It causes corneal deposits in 90% of patients, which rarely results in vision loss — but 5% of users see “halos” or rings of color around lights.
Amiodarone and Optic Neuropathy
Amiodarone-induced vision problems are usually diagnosed as optic neuropathy or neuritis. These diseases cause swelling and inflammation, which damages the optic nerve and causes progressive vision loss over several months.
Warning Signs of Optic Nerve Damage
- Pain around the eye
- Pain when moving the eyes
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Blurry vision
- “halo” or colored ring around lights
- Vision loss (usually both eyes)
- Loss of color vision
- Optic disc swelling
Case Report: Amiodarone and Vision Loss
A review of nearly 300 case reports of amiodarone-induced optic neuropathy were published by the American Journal of Medicine in May 2013.
It took an average of 9 months for vision loss to occur. While 58% of patients improved after discontinuing amiodarone, 21% did not improve and 21% got worse. About 20% of patients had legal blindness in at least one eye.
Amiodarone Toxicity Lawsuits
The FDA has warned Wyeth Pharmaceuticals not to promote amiodarone for unapproved uses. Despite the risks, amiodarone is the most commonly-prescribed anti-arrhythmic drug in the United States.
Patients may be unaware of the risk of blindness. The label has a “Black Box” warning about lung toxicity, but it does not include vision loss or blindness. Lawsuits accuse drug-makers of downplaying the risk of side effects from amiodarone.