Digoxin, which is used in the treatment of heart problems, may increase the risk of death in patients diagnosed with atrial fibrillation or A-fib.

According to the new study entitled "The Use of Digoxin in Patients With Worsening Chronic Heart Failure," the commonly used medication for treating heart issues could reduce the life span of patients who have an irregular heartbeat or A-fib.

The findings of the study suggest that those who were prescribed digoxin had an increased risk of mortality by 20 percent. This finding has raised concerns with the call for the discontinuation of the for heart treatments drug by some experts.

For the purpose of the study, the researchers followed nearly 122,465 patients at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals from 2003 to 2008. A substantial percentage (one in four) of these mostly older patients were on digoxin for A-fib. Patients who were prescribed digoxin were 1.2 times more susceptible to dying when compared to patients who were on other medication.

"We found in 122,000 patients with atrial fibrillation, those treated with digoxin were more likely to die [during the study period] than patients prescribed other medications," noted lead researcher Dr. Mintu Turakhia, assistant professor of cardiology at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California.

For the uninitiated, Digoxin is obtained from digitalis, which is an extract of the foxglove plant. The drug can aid in slowing down abnormal heart rhythms, as well as toughen the contractions of the heart. The WHO has listed the drug on its essential medicine list.

However, growing research in recent years has questioned the safety of digoxin and its administration. There is a fine line between the drug's dose being effective or toxic.

"I don't want to say that every patient should come off this drug and every doctor should stop using it," said Dr. Turakhia. "But this data should make us take pause and really evaluate whether we should be using this drug as much as we do."

Dr. Turakhia is also of the opinion that since other "safer drugs" are available for A-fib treatment, why digoxin should remain the only go-to option.

"There may be a role for digoxin, but is it the right drug when there are other alternatives -- that's a discussion that may be worth having," per Dr. Turakhia.

The study has been published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on August 11.

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