Digoxin for Heart Failure
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Digoxin is most often taken once a day as a pill, but it can also be injected into a vein if you are in the hospital.
How It Works
Digoxin slows and strengthens heart contractions, enabling the heart to pump more blood with each beat.
Why It Is Used
Digoxin is used for people who have symptoms of heart failure caused by left ventricular systolic dysfunction while they are receiving standard therapy (angiotensin-converting enzyme [ACE] inhibitors, beta-blockers, and diuretics).
Doctors also use digoxin to treat atrial fibrillation, an irregular, erratic heart rhythm that starts in the upper heart chambers (atria).
How Well It Works
Digoxin may help reduce symptoms and associated hospitalization but has not been proved to reduce the chance of death from heart failure.footnote 1
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
- Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
- Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
- If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:
- Trouble breathing.
- Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Call your doctor if you have:
Overdose of digoxin (also called digoxin poisoning) can happen if you have too much digoxin in your blood.
Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms of an overdose:
- Loss of appetite.
- Stomach problems, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Loss of vision.
- Change in heartbeat (fast, slow, or irregular).
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Tell your doctor all of the medicines, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. Other medicines can change the amount of digoxin in your blood so that you have too much digoxin. Too much digoxin causes serious symptoms of an overdose, also known as digoxin poisoning.
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
For tips on taking medicine for heart failure, see:
Advice for women
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to get pregnant.
You may have regular blood tests to check the level of digoxin in your blood. Your doctor will make sure you are taking a safe amount of digoxin. Your doctor will likely let you know when you need to have the tests. When you start taking digoxin, you initially may need to have frequent blood tests to monitor the level of the medicine. These tests may be done less frequently after you have been taking digoxin for some time.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Current as of: February 20, 2015
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology & Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Margaret Hetherington, PHM, BsC - Pharmacy
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