Digoxin: A Medicine for Heart Problems

Digoxin: A Medicine for Heart Problems

What is digoxin?

Digoxin is a medicine used to treat certain heart problems such as heart failure. Heart failure results when the heart can’t pump blood well enough to supply the body’s needs. If you have heart failure, digoxin can improve your heart’s ability to pump blood. This will often improve symptoms such as shortness of breath.

Digoxin can also help people who have a rapid or irregular heartbeat. This can be caused by a heart problem called atrial fibrillation. Digoxin helps by slowing down and controlling the heart rate.

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

Path to improved health

How should I take my digoxin?

It’s very important to 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 less than 12 hours have passed since your normal dosage time. If more than 12 hours have passed, skip that dose altogether. You don’t want to double up on digoxin doses.

It may take several weeks to several months for digoxin to start working. Don’t be surprised if you don’t feel better right away. Keep taking your digoxin, even after you are feeling better. Don’t suddenly stop taking your digoxin. This could make your heart problems worse. Call your doctor if you have any problems taking the medicine.

Do any foods or other medicines affect how digoxin works?

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

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

Don’t take these medicines or eat high-fiber foods too close to the time you take your digoxin. It could mean that you’ll have too little digoxin in your bloodstream to help your heart. It is better to take digoxin on an empty stomach. Check with your doctor before taking any of the medicines listed above. If your doctor says it’s okay to take these medicines, wait 2 hours between a dose of digoxin and a dose of these medicines.

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

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

The digoxin dose 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 has to be done at least 6 hours after your 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 he or she may want to schedule your appointment so that you will have your blood drawn at the right time.

Things to consider

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

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • stomach pain
  • loss of appetite
  • tiredness or weakness
  • slow heartbeat
  • palpitations
  • irregular heartbeat
  • drowsiness
  • confusion
  • fainting
  • vision changes (blurred or yellow).

It is important to pay attention to these side effects. Too much digoxin is dangerous. You should call your doctor right away 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 you doctor. If you have heart failure, the following symptoms may mean that you are not getting enough digoxin:

  • More shortness of breath than usual.
  • A decrease in your ability to climb stairs or walk.
  • Waking up short of breath at night.
  • Shortness of breath when you lie flat or sleep on more pillows than usual.
  • More frequent trips to the bathroom during the night.
  • Increased ankle swelling or feeling that 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 a feeling that your heart is racing.
  • Change in your heart rate.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fainting or blackouts.

If you develop any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away. Your doctor will decide how to adjust medication and/or manage symptoms as needed.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Is digoxin the right medicine for me?
  • How should I take this medicine?
  • What are possible side effects?
  • What are symptoms I need to watch out for?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • How long will I need to take digoxin?

Resources

U.S. National Library of Medicine, Digoxin