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Descriptions of Digoxin

Digoxin is used to treat congestive heart failure, usually in combination with a diuretic (water pill) and an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor. It is also used to treat a heart rhythm problem called atrial fibrillation.

Digoxin belongs to the class of medicines called digitalis glycosides. It is used to improve the strength and efficiency of the heart, or to control the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. This leads to better blood circulation and reduced swelling of the hands and ankles in patients with heart problems.

Why is this medication prescribed?

Digoxin is used to treat heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). It helps the heart work better and it helps control your heart rate.

Mechanism of action

Digoxin is a cardiac glycoside extracted from foxglove leaves. It is used in heart failure because of its ability to increase the force of myocardial contraction (positive inotropy) and, simultaneously, decrease oxygen consumption.

Digoxin binds to and inhibits the sodium/potassium-ATPase (sodium pump) within the plasma membrane of cardiac myocytes. This inhibition increases the intracellular sodium content which in turn increases the intracellular calcium content which leads to increased cardiac contractility.

Digoxin has other effects on the heart, particularly on its electrical activity. It also affects the contractile function of vascular smooth muscle and the activity of the autonomic nervous system.

How should this medicine be used?

Digoxin comes as a tablet, capsule, or pediatric elixir (liquid) to take by mouth. Digoxin is usually taken once a day. The pediatric elixir comes with a specially marked dropper for measuring the dose. If you have difficulty, ask your pharmacist to show you how to use it. It is important that you always take the same brand of digoxin. Different brands of digoxin have different amounts of active drug and your dose would need to be changed.

Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand. Take digoxin exactly as directed. Do not take more or less of it or take it more often than prescribed by your doctor.

Digoxin helps control your condition but will not cure it. Continue to take digoxin even if you feel well. Do not stop taking digoxin without talking to your doctor.

Digoxin Warnings

You should not take digoxin if you:

  • Are allergic to digoxin or any of the ingredients in the medication
  • Have an irregular heartbeat caused by ventricular fibrillation

Talk to your doctor before taking digoxin if you:

  • Have any current or previous heart conditions, including heart attack, endocarditis (infections of the heart muscle or in the lining that surrounds the heart), heart failure, or very slow heartbeat
  • Have low concentrations of oxygen in the body, a condition known as hypoxia
  • Have low levels of potassium or calcium in the blood, which might reduce the effect of digoxin
  • High levels of calcium or low levels of magnesium in the blood
  • Have Beriberi heart disease
  • Have thyroid disease

The concentration of digoxin in your blood can vary based on many factors and could become dangerous if not kept within a certain range.

Your doctor will probably have you come in for lab work from time to time to monitor your digoxin levels.

Pregnancy and Digoxin

Digoxin should only be taken by pregnant women when the risks outweigh the benefit.

Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant or might become pregnant before taking this medication.

Digoxin has been found to pass into breast milk, so talk to your doctor if you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed.