Digoxin is usually taken once a day in the morning.
Your doctor will occasionally ask you to have some blood tests.
If you start vomiting, develop diarrhoea, get blurred/yellow vision, or become dizzy, you should contact your doctor for advice.
|Type of medicine||A cardiac glycoside|
|Used for||Fast and erratic heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter
|Available as||Tablets, oral liquid and injection|
An arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat - your heart may skip a beat, beat irregularly or beat at the wrong speed. This can cause you to feel dizzy and breathless, and you may have chest pain and palpitations. Digoxin works by slowing down the rate at which your heart beats. When your heart rate is brought down to normal, your heart becomes efficient again and your symptoms usually improve.
Digoxin also strengthens the force of your heartbeat, which is why it is useful in heart failure. Heart failure is a condition where your heart does not work as well as it should.
Before taking digoxin
Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking digoxin it is important that your doctor knows:
- If you have any heart problems other than those you are currently seeing your doctor for.
- If you have kidney or thyroid problems.
- If you have problems with your breathing.
- If you have been told by a doctor that you have low levels of potassium or magnesium, or high levels of calcium in your blood.
- If you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
- If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
How to take digoxin
- Before you start this treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside your pack. The leaflet will give you more information about digoxin and a full list of side-effects which you may experience from taking it.
- Take digoxin once daily exactly as your doctor tells you to. There are three strengths of tablets (62.5 micrograms, 125 micrograms and 250 micrograms) - your doctor will prescribe the strength which is right for your condition. Your dose will be on the label of the pack to remind you.
- If you have been given liquid medicine, it is important that you take the right amount. Use the dropper that comes with the bottle to measure out your doses. Ask your pharmacist to show you what to do if you are unsure.
- Try to take your doses at the same time of day each day as this will help you to remember to take them. Digoxin can be taken before or after food, but it is probably best if you eat a diet containing a lot of fibre (such as wholemeal breads, cereals, fruit and vegetables) if you take it before you eat this type of food.
- If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If you do not remember until the following day, skip the missed dose. Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.
Getting the most from your treatment
- Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check on your progress. Your doctor will want you to have some blood tests from time to time during this treatment, to check the levels of your electrolytes (salts) and to make sure your kidneys are working well. Sometimes your doctor may do a blood test to check the level of digoxin in your body. If so, you may be asked to delay taking your dose until after the test is taken.
- If you start vomiting, develop diarrhoea, get blurred or yellow vision, or become very dizzy, you must contact your doctor straightaway. These are signs that the dose of digoxin may be too high for you.
- Treatment with digoxin is usually long-term unless you experience an adverse effect. Continue to take it unless you are advised otherwise.
- If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are suitable to take with your other medicines. This is because some medicines and herbal remedies may interfere with digoxin.
- If you are having any treatment like an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment that you are taking digoxin.
Can digoxin cause problems?
Along with its useful effects, digoxin can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. Many of the side-effects of digoxin are similar to the effects you may experience if your dose is too high. Because of this, speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side-effects continue or become severe.
|Common digoxin side-effects - these affect less than 1 in 10 people who take this medicine||What can I do if I experience this?|
|Feeling dizzy||Getting up or moving more slowly should help. If you begin to feel dizzy, lie down so that you do not faint, then sit for a few minutes before standing|
|Blurred or yellow vision||Make sure you can see clearly before you drive or use tools or machines|
|Feeling or being sick||Stick to simple foods - avoid rich or spicy meals|
|Diarrhoea||Drink plenty of water to replace any lost fluids|
|Skin rash||Discuss this with your doctor if it is troublesome|
If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to this medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
How to store digoxin
- Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
- Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.
Important information about all medicines
Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital at once. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.
This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.
Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.
If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.
Further reading & references
- British National Formulary; 64th Edition (Sep 2012) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London
- Manufacturer's PIL, Lanoxin® 125 Tablets; Aspen, The electronic Medicines Compendium. Dated March 2012.
- Manufacturer's PIL, Lanoxin® PG Elixir; Aspen, The electronic Medicines Compendium. Dated March 2012.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.
Dr Adrian Bonsall