Harvard Heart Letter

Digoxin: Old friend or old foe?

Image: Thinkstock

Foxglove has dramatic spikes of tubeshaped flowers. The leaves are a source of digitalis, a potent heart drug.

The controversial heart failure drug has a new role in limiting hospital stays.

Dating from the 1700s, the ornamental purple foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) has been lauded for its medicinal properties. The modern-day derivative, digoxin, is among the oldest cardiac drugs still in use. And while digoxin will never again be the primary drug in heart failure treatment, it has settled into a useful niche for people with moderate to severe heart failure symptoms.

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