Digoxin May Heighten Risk of Death in Atrial Fibrillation Patients

Although digoxin has been frequently used since its discovery in 1785, the results of a recent study indicate that patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) who use the drug may be more likely to experience an early death. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, analyzed the records of 122,465 patients who were diagnosed with AF between 2003 and 2008.

Twenty-three percent of all participants were prescribed digoxin, with 70% remaining on the drug for at least 1 year. The research team found that those treated with digoxin were 1.2 times more likely to die than comparable patients prescribed other therapies, regardless of age, the use of other drugs, or the presence of conditions such as kidney disease, heart attack, or heart failure. Despite the concerns raised by these study results, many doctors and patients trust digoxin because of its historic status, the study authors noted.

“We are not asserting this drug should never be used,” said lead author, Mintu Turakhia, MD, in a press release. “However, in light of the many other drugs that can be used to slow down the heart rate in AF, patients and providers need to ask whether digoxin should be the treatment of choice when there are other, safer drugs.”

Because over 98% of the study’s participants were men, Turakhia called for additional studies to determine whether these results are also applicable to women.