BACKGROUND: Our purpose was to assess the time course of the benefit of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) on mortality documented by the GISSI-Prevenzione trial in patients surviving a recent (<3 months) myocardial infarction.

METHODS AND RESULTS: In this study, 11,323 patients were randomly assigned to supplements of n-3 PUFAs, vitamin E (300 mg/d), both, or no treatment (control) on top of optimal pharmacological treatment and lifestyle advice. Intention-to-treat analysis adjusted for interaction between treatments was carried out. Early efficacy of n-3 PUFA treatment for total, cardiovascular, cardiac, coronary, and sudden death; nonfatal myocardial infarction; total coronary heart disease; and cerebrovascular events was assessed by right-censoring follow-up data 12 times from the first month after randomization up to 12 months. Survival curves for n-3 PUFA treatment diverged early after randomization, and total mortality was significantly lowered after 3 months of treatment (relative risk [RR] 0.59; 95% CI 0.36 to 0.97; P=0.037). The reduction in risk of sudden death was specifically relevant and statistically significant already at 4 months (RR 0.47; 95% CI 0.219 to 0.995; P=0.048). A similarly significant, although delayed, pattern after 6 to 8 months of treatment was observed for cardiovascular, cardiac, and coronary deaths.

CONCLUSIONS: The early effect of low-dose (1 g/d) n-3 PUFAs on total mortality and sudden death supports the hypothesis of an antiarrhythmic effect of this drug. Such a result is consistent with the wealth of evidence coming from laboratory experiments on isolated myocytes, animal models, and epidemiological and clinical studies.