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Heart Med Digoxin Tied to Higher Death Risk in Some

Increase seen in people with certain abnormal heart rhythms, study finds

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The findings from this current study are also not definitive and raise more questions than they answer, Fonarow said. He thinks that clinical trials pitting digoxin against other treatments for atrial fibrillation are needed to settle the question.

In the meantime, Fonarow said, "patients with atrial fibrillation should not alter their medications without speaking to their cardiologist and carefully weighing the risks and benefits of the different treatment options."

For the study, Turakhia and colleagues used medical records from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care system between 2003 and 2008. They collected data on more than 120,000 people with newly diagnosed atrial fibrillation. Nearly all of them were men.

Nearly one-quarter of them were taking digoxin. Seventy percent of those taking the drug were still taking it after a year, the researchers noted.

Turakhia's team found that those taking digoxin were more than 20 percent more likely to die, compared with patients taking other drugs to control their atrial fibrillation.

The researcher took into account other factors, such as taking other drugs including beta-blockers, the heart rhythm drug amiodarone and the blood thinner warfarin. They also considered age and other medical conditions, such as kidney disease, heart attack or heart failure. However, the risk of death linked to digoxin remained the same, according to the study.

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