Digoxin: A Medicine for Heart Problems

Digoxin is a medication used to treat certain heart problems, such as heart failure. Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood well enough to meet the body’s needs. If you have heart failure, digoxin may improve your heart’s ability to pump blood. This will often improve symptoms such as shortness of breath.

Digoxin may also help people who have a fast or irregular heartbeat. This may be due to a heart problem called atrial fibrillation. Digoxin helps slow down and control the heart rate.

Digoxin comes in tablet, capsule, and liquid form. It works with minerals in the heart cells to reduce tension and keep the heart beating normally.

Path to better health

How should I take my digoxin?

It is very important that you take your digoxin exactly as your doctor tells you. Digoxin is usually taken once a day. You should try to take it at the same time every day. If you miss a dose, you can take it if it has been less than 12 hours since your normal dosing time. If it has been more than 12 hours, skip that dose completely. You don’t want to double up on digoxin doses.

Digoxin can take several weeks to several months to start working. Don’t be surprised if you don’t feel better right away. Continue taking digoxin, even after you feel better. Do not suddenly stop taking your digoxin. This could make your heart problems worse. Call your doctor if you have any problems taking the medication.

Does any food or other medication affect how digoxin works?

Some medications and foods can decrease the amount of digoxin your body absorbs. These include:

  • Antacids containing aluminum or magnesium.
  • Some cholesterol-lowering medications (cholestyramine and colestipol)
  • Certain medications that treat gastrointestinal problems, such as metoclopramide or sulfasalazine.
  • Some antidiarrheal medications containing kaolin and pectin.
  • Bulk laxatives (such as psyllium, Metamucil, or Citrucel)
  • High-fiber foods (such as bran muffins) or nutritional supplements (such as Garantiza)

Do not take these medications or eat high-fiber foods too close to the time you take digoxin. It could mean that you will have too little digoxin in your bloodstream to help your heart. It is best to take digoxin on an empty stomach. Consult your doctor before taking any of the medications listed above. If your doctor tells you that you can take these medications, wait 2 hours between a dose of digoxin and a dose of these medications.

Digoxin also interacts with many other medications. You should always tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medications you are taking. This includes over-the-counter medications, natural remedies, and herbal medicines. Always talk to your doctor before taking any new medication.

How will my doctor know if I am receiving the right amount of digoxin?

The dose of digoxin needed to treat heart conditions is different for different people. Your doctor may do a blood test to make sure you have the right amount of digoxin in your body. This blood test should be done at least 6 hours after the last dose of digoxin. Tell your doctor when you normally take your digoxin. Your doctor may want you to wait to take your dose. Or they may want to schedule your appointment to have your blood drawn at the right time.

Things to consider

Most people can take digoxin without experiencing many side effects. However, it could have side effects, especially if you take too much digoxin. These side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomachache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • slow heartbeat
  • palpitations
  • Arrhythmia
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Changes in vision (blurred or yellow)

It is important to pay attention to these side effects. Too much digoxin is dangerous. You should call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

There are also symptoms when you are not getting enough digoxin. You should discuss your condition and symptoms with your doctor. If you have heart failure, the following symptoms may mean that you are not getting enough digoxin:

  • More difficulty breathing than usual
  • A decrease in your ability to climb stairs or walk.
  • Waking up breathless at night
  • Trouble breathing when lying down or sleeping on more pillows than usual
  • More frequent trips to the bathroom during the night.
  • Increased ankle swelling or feeling like your shoes are suddenly too tight

If you have atrial fibrillation, the following symptoms may mean that you are not getting enough digoxin:

  • Rapid pulse (more than 100 beats per minute)
  • Palpitations or feeling like your heart is racing
  • Change in your heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting or fainting

If you develop any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. Your doctor will decide how to adjust your medication and/or monitor your symptoms as necessary.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Is digoxin the right medicine for me?
  • how should I take this medicine?
  • What are the possible side effects?
  • What are the symptoms I should pay attention to?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • How long will I have to take digoxin?
  • Is there a newer medication that can help my condition with fewer side effects?

Resources

National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: digoxin

Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your primary care doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.

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