Digoxin (Molecule of the Month for May 2011)
Foxglove, Lanoxin, Digitek, Lanoxicaps
Digoxin is a purified cardiac glycoside extracted from the foxglove plant, Digitalis lanata. Digoxin is widely used in the treatment of various heart conditions, namely atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter and sometimes heart failure that cannot be controlled by other medication. Digoxin preparations are commonly marketed under the trade names Lanoxin, Digitek, and Lanoxicaps. Digoxin is usually given by mouth, but can also be given by IV injection in urgent situations
Today, the most common use for digoxin are atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter with rapid ventricular response. Beta blockers and/or calcium channel blockers should be the first choice. High ventricular rate leads to insufficient diastolic filling time. By slowing down the conduction in the AV node and increasing its refractory period, digoxin can reduce the ventricular rate. The arrhythmia itself is not affected, but the pumping function of the heart improves owing to improved filling. The use of digoxin in heart problems during sinus rhythm was once standard, but is now controversial. In theory, the increased force of contraction should lead to improved pumping function of the heart, but its effect on prognosis is disputable, and other effective treatments are now available. Digoxin is no longer the first choice for congestive heart failure, but can still be useful in patients who remain symptomatic despite proper diuretic and ACE inhibitor treatment.
The occurrence of adverse drug reactions is common, owing to its narrow therapeutic index (the margin between effectiveness and toxicity). An often described, but rarely seen, adverse effect of digoxin is a disturbance of color vision (mostly yellow and green) called xanthopsia. Vincent van Gogh's "Yellow Period" may have somehow been influenced by concurrent digitalis therapy. Other oculotoxic effects of digoxin include generalized blurry vision, as well as seeing a "halo" around each point of light. The latter effect can also be seen in van Gogh's Starry Night. Evidence of van Gogh's digoxin use is supported by multiple self portraits that include the foxglove plant, from which digoxin is obtained. (e.g. Portrait of Dr. Gachet). Charles Cullen admitted in 2003 to killing as many as 40 hospital patients with overdoses of heart medication—usually digoxin—at hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania over his 16-year career as a nurse. On March 10, 2006, he was sentenced to 18 consecutive life sentences and is not eligible for parole
Formal Chemical Name (IUPAC)
Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for May 2011 )