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Digoxin: Definition & Drug Side Effects

Instructor: Lynee Carter
In this lesson, we will learn about digoxin, a medication that helps treat certain heart problems. Find out the common side effects that can occur when receiving this medication.

What is Digoxin?

The heart can be an imperfect organ. Though it can't literally 'break in two' as pop songs would suggest, it can malfunction. It can beat too fast, irregularly, or not strongly enough to pump blood effectively to areas in the body.

Since blood carries oxygen and important nutrients the body needs, the lack of circulation can cause people to become very sick. They can feel very tired, have breathing problems or swelling in the extremities. In some of these cases, doctors will prescribe a medication for the heart known as digoxin.

Here are some examples of some heart problems that can be treated by digoxin:

  • Tachycardia is when the heart beats greater than 100 beats per minute.
  • Atrial fibrillation is a condition where the top parts of the heart (atria) beat irregularly
  • Heart failure is a condition when the heart pumps weakly.

Digoxin is classified as a digitalis glycoside medicine, and it comes from the leaves of the digitalis plant. These medications make the heart beat slower and stronger. The result is an efficient blood supply throughout the body.

side effects

Common Side Effects?

There are some side effects that can occur when taking digoxin. People can experience these symptoms starting in the head all the way to their feet:

  • Head -- feeling dizzy, confused or having blurred vision
  • Lungs -- having trouble breathing
  • Heart -- having a slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Stomach -- feeling nausea and vomiting
  • Intestines -- having diarrhea or black stools
  • Legs and Feet -- having swelling

head to feet

Digoxin Toxicity

In some cases, taking digoxin can lead to a life threatening side effect called digoxin toxicity. This is when there is too much digoxin for the body to handle. Low levels of the electrolytes potassium and magnesium can increase the amount of digoxin in a person taking this medication. Oftentimes, this is seen when a person takes other medications for the heart that can lower these electrolytes. Digoxin toxicity can cause the heart to beat improperly, which can lead to death.

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