Background: Cardiac glycosides such as digoxin, digitoxin and ouabain are still used around the world to treat patients with chronic heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) and/or atrial fibrillation (AF). However, in the US, only digoxin is licensed for treating these illnesses, and the use of digoxin for this group of patients is increasingly being replaced in the US by a new standard of care with groups of more expensive drugs. However, ouabain and digitoxin, and less potently digoxin, have also recently been reported to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 virus penetration into human lung cells, thus blocking COVID-19 infection. COVID-19 is known to be a more aggressive disease in patients with cardiac comorbidities, including heart failure.
Objective: We therefore considered the possibility that digoxin might provide at least a measure of relief from COVID-19 in digoxin-treated heart failure patients. To this end, we hypothesized that treatment with digoxin rather than standard of care might equivalently protect heart failure patients with regard to diagnosis of COVID-19, hospitalization and death.
Methods: To test this hypothesis, we conducted a cross-sectional study by using the US Military Health System (MHS) Data Repository to identify all MHS TRICARE Prime and Plus beneficiaries aged 18-64 years with a heart failure (HF) diagnosis during the period April 2020 to August 2021. In the MHS, all patients receive equal, optimal care without regard to rank or ethnicity. Analyses included descriptive statistics on patient demographics and clinical characteristics, and logistic regressions to determine likelihood of digoxin use.
Results: We identified 14,044 beneficiaries with heart failure in the MHS during the study period. Of these, 496 were treated with digoxin. However, we found that both digoxin-treated and standard-of-care groups were equivalently protected from COVID-19. We also noted that younger active duty service members and their dependents with HF were less likely to receive digoxin compared with older, retired beneficiaries with more comorbidities.
Conclusion: The hypothesis of equivalent protection by digoxin treatment of HF patients in terms of susceptibility to COVID-19 infection appears to be supported by the data.
© 2023. This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply.