What they do

The most commonly-used digitalis preparations are digoxin and digitoxin. Both may mildly strengthen your heart and reduce your heart rate slightly. Digitalis may also decrease oedema (swelling caused by the build-up of fluid). It’s especially useful in people with irregular heart rhythms, notably atrial fibrillation with a rapid heart rate.

What are the expected benefits?

Digitalis helps to control your heart rate, thereby improving symptoms.

Side effects

It is important that you are given the right dose of digoxin – your doctor or nurse will do regular blood tests to check this. If you are given too much digoxin you may lose your appetite or develop nausea (feeling sick), headache or blurred / coloured vision.

Occasionally, high levels of digoxin can cause abnormal heart rhythms which could make you experience palpitations or black outs – if you have either of these symptoms you should see your doctor.

Top tips

If you have a lower than average potassium level (this can happen, for example, if you have insulin-dependent diabetes, or are taking diuretics) you may be more likely to have high levels of digoxin. You should therefore make sure you can recognise the early signs of too much digoxin, such as nausea, loss of appetite or an extremely slow heartbeat. You should see your doctor if you develop any of these symptoms.

Before having any kind of surgery, including dental or emergency treatment, you should tell your doctor, dentist or surgeon that you are taking digoxin.

Also known as:

  • Digoxina
  • Metildigoxina

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ESC Guidelines for Heart Failure

What patients need to know

This guide for patients from the European Society of Cardiology aims to provide an overview of the latest evidence-based recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of heart failure.

In particular, it should help patients to understand the:

  • main types of heart failure
  • medicines used to treat heart failure
  • devices that may be appropriate
  • importance of rehabilitation
  • management by a multidisciplinary team
  • importance of self-care in managing your own condition

Learn more


A series of 9 simple, captivating animations explaining heart failure and its treatment.

These narrated animations explain how a healthy heart works, what happens to it in heart failure and how various treatments work to improve your health.


In this section you can watch, listen or read interviews with other people with heart failure and their caregivers.


and share your own views and experiences with other patients, families and caregivers. is a European Society of Cardiology website

The website was developed under the direction of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The ESC is a world leader in the discovery and dissemination of best practices in cardiovascular medicine. Our members and decision-makers are healthcare professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to represent professionals in the field of cardiology in Europe and beyond.

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