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How Effective Is Digoxin for Heart Failure?

Article Details
  • Written By: Lee Johnson
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Digoxin for heart failure is an effective treatment, but only in terms of symptom management and reducing the amount of hospital visits required by affected patients. Clinical studies have confirmed that digoxin has little to no effect on the lifespan of patients who suffer from heart failure, but it does reduce the amount of necessary hospital visits. There is a possibility that the treatment is effective in patients who have mild to moderate heart failure, but the benefits are still negligible. Digoxin for heart failure isn’t considered to be a primary treatment.

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can no longer pump the required amount of blood around the body. The term "heart failure" might induce some patients into thinking that the heart has stopped working, but it is merely failing to pump the required amount of blood around the body. This can occur quickly, in a condition known as acute heart failure, or gradually over time, in chronic heart failure. Heart failure is caused either by the left ventricle being unable to pump as hard as is required or by the heart being unable to fill with blood. Prescribing digoxin for heart failure is more for symptom management than an actual cure of the condition.

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The Digitalis lanata plant contains the ingredient that is extracted to form digoxin. The drug works by inhibiting the action of the enzyme responsible for levels of calcium in the heart. Calcium is a key component in regulating the strength of heart contractions, and digoxin increases the amount of calcium present, thus increasing the strength of the heartbeat. This provides some help to patients who are suffering from heart failure, particularly when the strength of their ventricular contractions is the issue. Digoxin also is prescribed for the treatment of atrial fibrillation.

Many studies have been performed on the effect of digoxin for heart failure, and it has been a controversial issue in the medical field. If the success of the treatment could be solely measured by the level of hospital visits required by patients taking the drug, it would be considered a very successful treatment. The main issue with the use of digoxin for heart failure is that research shows that it has no affect whatsoever on the lifespan of patients who are suffering from the condition. Diuretics and angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors also have been shown to work well in combination with digoxin, but only in improving quality of life, not the patient's lifespan. There are few to no risks of taking digoxin, however, so it has continued to be used as a supplementary treatment in mild to moderate cases of heart failure.

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