CLL Support Association

Husband on Imbruvica, went into sudden cardiac arrest

My husband was diagnosed with stage 4 CLL, went through one round of RCVP chemo with no results last year, so was started on Imbruvica in June 2017. The change in his health, energy level, and blood counts was absolutely remarkable. We told everyone it was a miracle drug.

Then without warning, my husband went into sudden cardiac arrest in bed last Saturday, 12/30 around 3:30 AM. Luckily I was awake and heard his distorted breathing! By the time I jumped up and called 911, he had stopped breathing. It is truly a miracle of God that he even survived! They had to resuscitate him 6 times, he was on a vent for 3 days, and he is now awake but suffers from short term memory loss. On top of that, he is now off any treatment and there is no way he will go back on this drug that we thought was saving his life. He never had any heart problems and his catheterization test was clean. His potassium level was 2.4 when they checked it in the ER and the doctors feel this may have put his heart into arrhythmia.

I am just sick inside but so grateful that I'm not a widow today. Has anyone else ever heard of anything like this happening. I truly hope not but would like to hear anything anyone has to share. Thanks so much!

9 Replies

Hi bingbang,

I was very sorry to hear what happened to your husband. Such an unexpected and frightening thing - I'm not surprised you still feel sick inside.

I haven't heard of anyone on this site having a sudden cardiac arrest due to Imbruvica (though I'm not an expert and haven't read every post). However, Imbruvica can cause atrial fibrillation (fast and irregular heartbeat), which may lead to other heart problems.

Your husband's potassium level was very low at 2.4, and as the doctors have told you, this can also affect the heart. I would be asking why his potassium level was so low, and whether this was connected with his CLL treatment or whether there was some other cause.

Hopefully more tests will be done and you'll have more discussions with doctors about all this.

Wishing all the best to you and your husband, as you work your way through all this...



My potassium level was low even before I went on Ibrutinib. The drug caused high bp and I had to start hydrochlorothiazide (water pill 25 mg.). I had to take 4 20 meq potassium pills a day to keep my potassium at 3- 3.4 . I am off the Ibrutinib (due to cardiotoxicities) but still take the water pill. I take three potassium pills a day and potassium is about 3. Bottom line in my opinion, CLL causes low potassium, Ibrutinib makes it go lower and if you are taking a diuretic (water pill) you need potassium supplements and possibly more than the normal patient.



Praying your husband makes a good recovery.


So sorry to hear your frightening experience-sending love and strength to you both. -bill


Thank you everyone for your kind and also insightful replies. Especially interesting to note others' experience with low potassium. By the grace of God my husband is making an almost miraculous recovery and I am very hopeful. But also very scared for the future, concerned about how we will now treat his CLL and absolutely terrified that this might ever happen again. Thanks again for all your support, it means a lot!


I'm glad your husband is OK, but there is no proven causal relationship to ibrutinib, so we need to be careful not to attribute this terrifying event to the treatment.

If in fact it is proven to be caused by Imbruvica (ibrutinib) then it must go to the FDA


Agreed that we do need to be careful not to jump to conclusions. But my husband has no history of any cardiac problems and his heart is still (fortunately) in excellent shape. The doctors that he saw while in the hospital all focused on this as the primary cause. My cousin is a doctor of internal medicine and is well acquainted with a CLL specialist at Oxford University who also said that he has seen some evidence of this and he would be suspect. And apparently in the last quarter of 2017, ibrutinib was put on the FDA watchlist for ventricular arrhythmia, which is exactly what happened to my husband.

Here is a link to another study that was done on this issue:

I know this is a miracle drug for many. We thought it was for my husband as well. I would just caution everyone to do their due diligence, ask lots of questions, and have a cardio/oncologist onboard if there is any doubt at all.


sorry to hear about your husband, glad he is ok. My husband had a heart attack last April 2017. He has Cll and is about start Ibrutinib on next week should I be worried or should he see his cardiologist before starting?


Certainly very prudent , Imbruvica (ibrutinib) does have a history of A.fib for some patients, in my case it made my preexisting A.fib worse.

Best to find a cardio/oncologist, since they specislize intreatment related heart issues... this tends to be a bit out side a normal cardio's comfort zone...



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