Digoxin is usually given by mouth, but can also be given by IV injection in urgent situations (the IV injection should be slow, and heart rhythm should be monitored). While IV therapy may be better tolerated (less nausea), digoxin has a very long distribution half-life into the cardiac tissue, which will delay its onset of action by a number of hours. The half-life is about 36 hours, digoxin is given once daily, usually in 125-μg or 250-μg doses.
In patients with decreased kidney function, the half-life is considerably longer, calling for a reduction in dose or a switch to a different glycoside, such as digitoxin (not available in the United States), which has a much longer elimination half-life of around seven days, but is mainly eliminated from the body via the liver, and thus not affected by changes in kidney function.
Effective plasma levels vary depending on the medical indication. For congestive heart failure, levels between 0.5 and 1.0 ng/ml are recommended. This recommendation is based on post hoc analysis of prospective trials, suggesting higher levels may be associated with increased mortality rates. For heart rate control (atrial fibrillation), plasma levels are less defined and are generally titrated to a goal heart rate. Typically, digoxin levels are considered therapeutic for heart rate control between 1.0 and 2.0 ng/ml. In suspected toxicity or ineffectiveness, digoxin levels should be monitored. Plasma potassium levels also need to be closely controlled (see side effects below).
Quinidine, verapamil, and amiodarone increases plasma levels of digoxin (by displacing tissue binding sites and depressing renal digoxin clearance), so plasma digoxin must be monitored carefully.
Researchers at Yale University looked at data from an earlier study to see if digoxin affected men and women differently. That study determined digoxin, which has been used for centuries and makes the heart contract more forcefully, did not reduce deaths overall, but did result in less hospitalization. Researcher Dr. Harlan Krumholz said they were surprised to find women in the study who took digoxin died "more frequently" (33%) than women who took a placebo pill (29%). They calculated digoxin increased the risk of death in women by 23%. There was no difference in the death rate for men in the study.
Digoxin is also used as a standard control substance to test for p-glycoprotein inhibition.
Read more about this topic: Digoxin
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