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 study was conducted by researchers from the JW Goethe University in
Frankfurt, Germany. The systematic review and meta-analysis of all studies
published in peer-reviewed journals between 1993 to 2014 that looked at the
effects of digoxin on death from any cause in AF and CHF patients.
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.
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.