Flecainide is an oral antiarrhythmic agent that has been in use for several decades. Long term flecainide therapy is associated with a low rate of serum enzyme elevations and is a very rare cause of clinically apparent acute liver injury.


Flecainide (fle kay' nide) is a benzamide derivative analogue of the local anesthetic procaine and has electrophysiological effects that resemble quinidine (antiarrhythmic Class IC). Flecainide appears to act by blocking open sodium channels and outward potassium channels. As a consequence, it decreases cardiac automaticity, increases refractory periods and slows conduction. Flecainide was approved for use in the United States in 1985. Its current indications include prevention and suppression of life threatening ventricular arrhythmias and conversion of supraventricular tachyarrhythmias and subsequent maintenance of normal sinus rhythm in patients without structural heart disease, in whom other agents were unsuccessful. Flecainide is available in tablets of 50, 100 and 150 mg generically and under the brand name Tambocor. The usual maintenance dose in adults is 50 to 200 mg twice daily. The most common side effects include dizziness, visual blurring, headache, fatigue, anxiety, gastrointestinal upset and nausea.


In clinical trials, flecainide was associated with a low rate of serum aminotransferase and alkaline phosphatase elevations. Despite wide scale use, flecainide has only rarely been linked to cases of clinically apparent liver injury. The typical presentation is with a cholestatic hepatitis arising within 1 to 6 weeks of starting flecainide. In addition, instances of acute hepatic injury arising within 1 to 3 days of starting flecainide with marked, but short lived elevations in serum aminotransferase levels and minimal increases in alkaline phosphatase have been published, but may actually represent acute worsening of congestive heart failure and ischemic hepatitis due to the proarrhythmic effects of flecainide. In all instances, the liver injury was self limited. Immunoallergic and autoimmune features were not present.

Likelihood score: C (probable rare cause of clinically apparent liver injury).

Mechanism of Injury

The mechanism by which flecainide might cause liver injury is unknown. Flecainide is metabolized in the liver predominantly by CYP 2D6. In some instances, symptoms and liver test abnormalities may be due to worsening of congestive heart failure and hepatic congestion.

Outcome and Management

Liver injury due to flecainide is rare and usually mild. Cases of prolonged jaundice, but no reports of acute liver failure, chronic hepatitis or vanishing bile duct syndrome attributed to flecainide, have been published. There is little information about cross sensitivity to liver injury between flecainide and other oral antiarrhythmics, but such shared sensitivity is unlikely.

Drug Class: Antiarrhythmic Agents


Case 1. Cholestatic hepatitis due to flecainide.

[Modified from: Mikloweit P, Bienmüller H. [Drug-induced intrahepatic cholestasis caused by flecainide acetate and enalapril]. Internist (Berl) 1987; 28: 193-5. German. PubMed Citation]

A 64 year old man developed abnormal liver tests five weeks after starting flecainide for cardiac tachyarrhythmias. He had a history of coronary artery disease and had been hospitalized for acute myocardial infarction, during which he had several episodes of ventricular tachycardia treated with lidocaine and then with oral flecainide (200 mg daily). His other medications included furosemide, spironolactone, metoprolol, glibecamide, and coumadin. Five weeks after starting flecainide therapy, laboratory testing demonstrated a total serum bilirubin of 3.0 mg/dL and alkaline phosphatase 310 U/L (Table). Flecainide was stopped the following day, but serum alkaline phosphatase levels continued to rise. He was started on propafenone. Tests for hepatitis B were negative and ultrasonography showed no evidence of biliary obstruction. A liver biopsy showed a cholestatic hepatitis with portal inflammation. Thereafter, serum bilirubin levels and alkaline phosphatase levels began to improve. Limited follow up was provided. [A second case of cholestatic hepatitis in this publication was attributed to enalapril]

Key Points

Laboratory Values


This patient developed cholestatic hepatitis 5 weeks after starting flecainide with improvements starting within a few days of stopping therapy. The cholestatic picture, timing of onset and lack of other known hepatotoxic exposures make flecainide a likely cause.



Flecainide – Generic, Tambocor®


Antiarrhythmic Agents


Product labeling at DailyMed, National Library of Medicine, NIH



References updated: 24 Janurary 2018

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    (61 year old man developed nausea followed by jaundice 30 days after starting flecainide for ventricular arrhythmias [peak bilirubin 15.8 mg/dL, ALT 71 U/L, Alk P 585 U/L] with slow recovery, symptoms resolving after 2, jaundice 3.5 and liver enzymes 5 months after stopping).
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    (Analysis of health care database of 10,455 adults with atrial fibrillation or flutter seen between 2009 and 2010 treated with antiarrhythmics for serious outcomes found no difference in incidence [per 1000 person years] of acute liver injury for flecainide [5], dronedarone [7.6], propafenone [14] or even amiodarone [18.9]).
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    (72 year old man with atrial fibrillation developed abdominal discomfort and liver test abnormalities within days of starting metoprolol and flecainide [ALT ~200 U/L], which resolved within 10 days of stopping and recurred [ALT 60 U/L] with restarting flecainide).