What Is Involved in Digoxin Therapy?

Jillian O Keeffe

Digoxin is a medication based on a natural extract of foxglove. It has certain effects on the heart, and can improve abnormal heart rhythms. People with congestive heart failure and unusual cardiovascular rhythms may be given digoxin therapy to help their condition. Typically, the patient takes a dose of digoxin by mouth every day, and the doctor determines the correct dose for individuals.

Digoxin can help slow a heart beat and make it rhythmic.
Digoxin can help slow a heart beat and make it rhythmic.

Although digoxin is a medicine that doctors have used for centuries to treat heart problems, it still has a place for certain people who suffer from cardiovascular conditions. Digoxin therapy is a longterm solution to heart problems, and for some people, it may be necessary to take it throughout their lifetime. Basically, the drug works on the heart itself.

People with congestive heart failure may be given digoxin therapy.
People with congestive heart failure may be given digoxin therapy.

Functionally, the heart is a pump that moves blood around the body. Certain heart conditions mean that the heart does not pump efficiently, and digoxin therapy can make it pump blood more normally. Other heart problems cause the heart to beat abnormally fast, and digoxin can also help make the heartbeats more regular, and slower. Symptoms of these conditions can also then be improved, such as being able to breathe normally, or relieving fits of fainting.

People who take digoxin need to take it every day. Medical experts believe that the best way to take the drug, as of 2011, is by mouth, as this is more practical than an injection. Digoxin manufacturers make the drug in tablets, capsules or as a liquid, known as an elixir. Each product type can vary in dosage and so patients should be very careful when switching brands.

Doctors may start digoxin therapy with a high initial dose, called a loading dose. This dose typically depends on the weight of the person minus the weight of the fat layer on the person. The doctor can give the patient several portions of the loading dose a few hours apart, and monitor him or her heart to look for any improvements. If the digoxin does help the patient, then he or she may need to take maintenance doses daily after the initial loading dose. This course of treatment can last for weeks, months or years, depending on the individual's needs.

A typical dose of digoxin does not exist, as individual people have different degrees of heart problems and dosing is determined on an individual basis. A doctor has to carefully monitor a person on a digoxin therapy regime to ensure that the drug dose is safe and effective. He or she generally tweaks the drug dose to best suit the patient, during the course of therapy, as well.

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