Does digoxin increase the risk of ischemic stroke and mortality in atrial fibrillation? A nationwide population-based cohort study

Tze-Fan Chao, Chia-Jen Liu, Su-Jung Chen, Kang-Ling Wang, Yenn-Jiang Lin, Shih-Lin Chang, Li-Wei Lo, Yu-Feng Hu, Ta-Chuan Tuan, Tzeng-Ji Chen, Chern-En Chiang, Shih-Ann Chen
Canadian Journal of Cardiology 2014, 30 (10): 1190-5

BACKGROUND: Digoxin and related cardiac glycosides have been used for almost 100 years in atrial fibrillation (AF). However, 2 recent analyses of the Atrial Fibrillation Follow-Up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM) trial showed inconsistent results regarding the risk of mortality associated with digoxin use. The goal of the present study was to investigate the relationship between digoxin and the risk of ischemic stroke and mortality in Asians.

METHODS: This study used the National Health Insurance Research Database (NHIRD) in Taiwan. A total of 4781 patients with AF who did not receive any antithrombotic therapy were selected as the study population. Among the study population, 829 participants (17.3%) received the digoxin treatment. The risk of ischemic stroke and mortality in patients who received digoxin and those who did not was compared.

RESULTS: The use of digoxin was associated with an increased risk of clinical events, with an adjusted hazard ratio of 1.41 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.17-1.70) for ischemic stroke and 1.21 (95% CI, 1.01-1.44) for all-cause mortality. In the subgroup analysis based on coexistence with heart failure or not, digoxin was a risk factor for adverse events in patients without heart failure but not in those with heart failure (interaction P < 0.001 for either end point). Among patients with AF without heart failure, the use of β-blockers was associated with better survival, with an adjusted hazard ratio of 0.48 (95% CI, 0.34-0.68).

CONCLUSIONS: Digoxin should be avoided for patients with AF without heart failure because it was associated with an increased risk of clinical events. β-Blockers may be a better choice for controlling ventricular rate in these patients.

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