Digitalis: Very powerful and potentially dangerous drug

Digitalis or digoxin is heart medication made from natural source which is used in treatment of heart disease. It is made from extract of foxglove plant that is known to contain toxic ingredients.

It is used in treatment of:

  • congestive heart failure
  • atrial arrhythmias
  • HOW IT WORKS

  • The drug works by strengthening the force of the heartbeat, by binding to sodium and potassium receptors, in the heart muscle. These receptors regulate the amount of calcium in the heart muscle. The drug binds to this receptors thereby preventing calcium from leaving the cell. The buildup of calcium in the cell of the heart muscles causes stronger heartbeats. This makes the drug very useful in treating heart failure.
  • In case of atrial arrhythmias, the drug reduces the number of signals that travel through the atrioventricular node. The less of this kind of signals, the fewer arrhythmias.
  • SIDE EFFECTS AND TOXICITY

    Digitalis can be very toxic, if taken in large doses. On the other hand, a person can have normal levels of the drug in his or her's body but it can be very sensitive to it, which may also lead to side effects and toxicity symptoms.

    Toxicity symptoms:

    • Unusual visual changes
    • Irregular heart rate
    • Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting
    • Heart palpitations
    • Loss of appetite
    • Hallucinations, confusion
    • Fatigue, shortness of breath
    • Low or high urin output

    WARNING: Digitalis can interact with many other drugs such as diuretics, corticosteroids, thyroid medications, erythromycin-like drugs, cancer drugs, neomycin, quinidine, cyclosporine, amiodarone, acarbose and herbs such as Kava Kava, St. John's Wort and Passionflower.

    TOXICITY TESTS

    Blood test is the main tool for diagnosing toxicity. It is used to check digoxin and digitoxin levels in the blood. The test may also include checking potassium and magnesium levels in the blood. Low levels of these two minerals are associated with increased risk of drug's toxicity.

    Besides these two, the doctor may also preform regular blood test to get additional clues. Electrocardiogram is also used in diagnosis since ECG can detect irregular heart beats caused by the drug.

    TOXICITY TREATMENT

    Digitalis toxicity can cause arrhythmias and heart failure that may have deadly outcome. However, there are several treatments available, when dealing with this kind of problem.

    Main goal is to lower the amount of the drug in the body. If toxicity symptoms appeared shortly after taking it and you have been rushed to the hospital as soon as possible, then the doctors will insert a tube into your stomach in order to extract its content, including the drug.

    There is also avaible a treatment with activated charcoal, which is a powder decontaminant that is used to reduce absorption of poisonous substances and chemicals in the body.

    Hemodialysis and CPR are also used. Besides these techniques, there are few other treatments available whose use depends on a individual and its condition.

    CONCLUSION

    Although it can be very useful in treating heart failure and atrial arrhythmia, the toxic side of it, makes it a very dangerous drug.

    If you take the medicine and toxicity sympotoms start to appear, let someone drive you to the hospital as soon as possible to avoid more serious consequences. Also talk to your doctor before taking any kind of drug or supplement with digitalis.





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