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Digoxin for Atrial Fibrillation

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
digoxin Lanoxin

How It Works

Digoxin helps slow the heart rate by blocking the number of electrical impulses that pass through the AV node into the lower heart chambers (ventricles).

Digoxin can also strengthen ventricular contractions so that the heart is able to pump more blood with each beat.

Why It Is Used

Digoxin slows heart rate and strengthens heart contractions in people who have atrial fibrillation. Digoxin can also be used to treat heart failure, so it is useful for treating people who have both atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

How Well It Works

Digoxin may be used along with other medicines to treat atrial fibrillation. Digoxin alone may not adequately control heart rate in people with active lifestyles.

Digoxin may improve symptoms of atrial fibrillation by:

  • Slowing the heart rate.
  • Strengthening heart contractions in people who have heart failure.

Your heart rate may not need to be very low. A heart rate of 110 beats per minute may be enough to help you.1

Side Effects

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:

  • Hives.

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.
  • Confusion.
  • 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.

Your doctor may ask you to take your pulse regularly to make sure your heart rate is not too slow. To learn how to take your pulse, see the topic Taking a Pulse (Heart Rate). Your doctor might have you use a device to record your heart rate at home for a couple of days. This device is referred to by several names, including ambulatory electrocardiogram and Holter monitor.

Taking medicine

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.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, 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, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

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.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Van Gelder IC, et al. (2010). Lenient versus strict rate control in patients with atrial fibrillation. New England Journal of Medicine, 362(15): 1363–1373.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical Reviewer John M. Miller, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Last Revised December 14, 2012

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