New Concerns About an Old Heart Drug

A recent study found that one of the oldest and most commonly used heart medications may shorten the lives of patients with atrial fibrillation, a common type of irregular heartbeat that affects about three million Americans.

The drug, digoxin, is used every day by millions of people, mostly older adults. It is prescribed for heart failure. Digoxin can help slow an abnormal heart rhythm and strengthen the heart’s contractions. The line between an effective dose and a toxic does is thin. In recent years, the drug’s safety has been questioned.

The study suggests that doctors should be extremely cautious when prescribing the drug. Although atrial fibrillation causes some of the deadliest and most devastating strokes, researchers found that more than 100,000 who were newly diagnosed with this condition and prescribed digoxin were 20% more likely to die over the next several years than those who received other types of treatment.

Digoxin is derived from digitalis, an extract of the foxglove plant that was first described in medical literature by a British doctor in the 1700s, who reported its use an herbal remedy for congestive heart failure. The drug is considered such a standard heart medication that the World Health Organization includes it on its list of essential medicines.

Read the full article from the New York Times.