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Digitalis drugs

Digitalis drugs are a group of plant-derived drugs used to treat certain heart disorders.

Common drugs

Digitalis drugs
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  • Digitoxin
  • Digoxin

Digitalis drugs are members of a group of plant-derived drugs called cardiac glycosides. Today, the most commonly used drug belonging to this group is digoxin. Digitalis drugs may be used to treat chronic heart failure, in which the heart fails to pump blood around the body effectively. These drugs act by increasing the strength of the heart's contraction. They also slow down an abnormally rapid heart rate and allow the heart to pump more blood with each beat. This action results in an improved flow of blood to organs throughout the body. Digitalis drugs may also be used to treat a very rapid, irregular heart-beat, such as atrial fibrillation. However, in this condition, digitalis drugs may slow the heart rate without correcting the irregularity.

How are digitalis drugs used?

You will normally be prescribed oral digitalis drugs. You may be given a large initial dose so that the drug becomes effective quickly. If your heart failure is life-threatening, very rapid treatment will be needed immediately, and the drug may be administered by infusion into a vein.

While you are taking a digitalis drug, your doctor will monitor your heart rate regularly. He or she may also arrange for you to have blood tests to check the levels of the drug in your blood. You may need to take a digitalis drug for a prolonged period.

What are the side effects of digitalis drugs?

You are most likely to experience side effects from taking the drug if the dose you are taking is too high. These side effects often develop slowly and may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and headache. You may also experience other side effects such as loss of appetite and fatigue. Visual disturbances, such as seeing coloured haloes around lights, may occur, and in rare cases, drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, and delirium may also be experienced. You should report any of these side effects to your doctor without delay.

Warning

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, or visual disturbances while you are taking the digitalis drug digoxin.

Posted 30.06.2010

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