A drug that has been used worldwide for centuries to treat
heart disease, Digoxin, may contribute to an increase in deaths in patients with heart
problems, says a new study.
The researchers found that the drug is harmful for patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) or congestive heart failure (CHF).
Digoxin is extracted from the foxglove plant (digitalis) that helps the heart beat in a regular rhythm. The drug is commonly used by patients with AF and CHF.
The researchers identified 19 relevant studies that included a total of 326,426 patients (235,047 AF and 91,379 CHF patients).
The study found that among patients treated with digoxin, there was an overall 21 percent increased risk of death from any cause compared to patients who were not treated with digoxin.
Digoxin was associated with a 29% risk of death from any cause in patients with atrial fibrillation and a 14% increased risk among those with congestive heart failure, compared with patients not treated with this drug.
"Our analysis, together with evidence from other studies, all point in the same direction: there is harm associated with the use of digoxin," said lead researchers Stefan Hohnloser, professor of cardiology at the J.W. Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.
Digoxin use is recommended in US and European guidelines for patients with heart failure and problems with control for the heart's rhythm. The study authors wrote, "These recommendations reflect the highly unsatisfactory data basis on which to judge the supposed benefits of digoxin."
"Digoxin has been used for decades and even now it is used in approximately one in three AF patients. My personal feeling is that the time of digoxin - particularly as a heart rate-controlling drug in AF - is over. But this needs to be tested in appropriately designed studies," said Hohnloser.