Inactivation of digoxin by the gut flora: reversal by antibiotic therapy

N Engl J Med. 1981 Oct 1;305(14):789-94. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198110013051403.


In approximately 10 per cent of patients given digoxin, substantial conversion of the drug to cardioinactive, reduced metabolites (digoxin reduction products, or DRPs) occurs. The site and clinical importance of this conversion is unknown. In four normal volunteers taking digoxin daily for four weeks, urinary excretion of DRPs was greatest after a poorly absorbed tablet was ingested, and least after intravenous administration, Stool cultures from subjects known to make DRPs in vivo ("excretors") converted digoxin to DRPs; cultures from nonexcretors did not. Three excretors were given tablets for 22 to 29 days. A five-day course of erythromycin or tetracycline, administered after a base-line period of 10 to 17 days, markedly reduced or eliminated DRP excretion in urine and stool. Serum digoxin concentrations rose as much as twofold after antibiotics were given. We conclude that in some persons digoxin is inactivated by gastrointestinal bacteria. Changes in the enteric flora may markedly alter the state of digitalization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biological Availability
  • Digestive System / microbiology*
  • Digoxin / metabolism*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Erythromycin / pharmacology
  • Feces / analysis
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Tetracycline / pharmacology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Erythromycin
  • Digoxin
  • Tetracycline