What Are the Most Common Digitalis Side Effects?

H. Lo

Digitalis is a poisonous plant in which parts are used in the form of medication to treat heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure (CHF) and irregular heartbeat. The most common digitalis side effects are diarrhea, drowsiness and fatigue, as well as headache, loss of appetite and muscle weakness. Other digitalis side effects, which are more serious, include breast enlargement, blurred vision and confusion in addition to irregular heartbeat, skin rash and upset stomach. These serious digitalis side effects are signs of poisoning or toxicity and require the affected person to seek medical attention immediately. In some instances, the medication can also lead to death.

Some patients experience headaches and drowsiness while taking digitalis.
Some patients experience headaches and drowsiness while taking digitalis.

Possible toxicity, which occurs when a person uses digitalis over an extended period of time, is the reason why a person should not self-medicate with the medication. Naturally, this toxicity can occur because the plant itself is poisonous. As such, while a person is taking the medication he or she should be monitored by a doctor or healthcare professional in case any serious digitalis side effects do arise. Although digitalis is prescribed for those who need it, the risks associated with the medication means that it is not safe for use in certain people.

In general, those with kidney disease cannot use the medication. A person with kidney problems might be unable to efficiently remove the medication from his or her body. This can potentially influence the side effects that a person might receive in response to taking digitalis because it essentially means more of the medication remains in the body. In addition to those with kidney problems, certain people with heart disease might not be able to take digitalis either, even though the medication is used to treat heart conditions. Also, pregnant or breast-feeding women should only take the medication when directly prescribed by a doctor.

Digitalis dosage and other drugs can play a role in a person’s side effects as well. Usually, a dose of digitalis that is too low will result in difficulty breathing or swelling of the ankles or lower legs. Someone who develops these side effects should speak to his or her doctor and have the dosage adjusted. At the same time, it is important that a person not increase his or her own dose in reaction to showing these symptoms, as digitalis poisoning can occur. As with any medication, there are other drugs that do not interact well with digitalis including antibiotics, diuretics and stimulant laxatives.

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