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News2014November › Century-old heart drug is a killer › November 2014

Century-old heart drug is a killer

Digoxin is a drug that's been used for more than a century to control the heart rate in people with atrial fibrillation (irregular/fast heartbeat)-but researchers have discovered only this week that it can be a killer.

Digoxin is a drug that's been used for more than a century to control the heart rate in people with atrial fibrillation (irregular/fast heart beat)-but researchers have discovered only this week that it can be a killer. It increases the risk of death by 72 per cent, and the researchers believe it is time for a rethink on the drug's use.

Safety records for the drug, marketed as Lanoxin, are old, limited and have been based on small groups of people, and only a handful checked for longer-term mortality.

So when researchers from the Kaiser Permanente research centre looked at the effects of the drug on nearly 15,000 patients with atrial fibrillation, they discovered it increased the risk of death by 72 per cent and of emergency hospital care by 63 per cent. During the three-year study period, 1,140 participants died, and the rate was nearly double in the digoxin group. In addition, 8,456 people needed emergency hospital care, and, again, the rate was nearly double in the group taking the drug.

(Source: Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, 2014; doi: 10.1161/CIRCEP.114.002292)


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