Digoxin toxicity: an evaluation in current clinical practice

Arch Intern Med. 1998 Dec;158(22):2444-9. doi: 10.1001/archinte.158.22.2444.


Background: Serum digoxin concentrations (SDCs) are frequently sampled before completion of drug distribution. If elevated, these concentrations may be misinterpreted, potentially leading to a misdiagnosis of digoxin toxicity.

Objectives: To determine the frequency of elevated SDCs (>2.6 nmol/L [>2.0 ng/mL]) obtained at appropriate postdosing intervals and to evaluate the frequency of clinically defined digoxin toxicity in patients with elevated SDCs.

Methods: The medical records of adult patients with SDCs assayed at 5 general hospitals in North Carolina during a 3-month period (May 1 through July 31, 1996) were prospectively evaluated. Data on SDC, inpatient or outpatient status, and medical or surgical service were collected for all patients. Data on patient demographics, serum chemistry values, indication for digoxin treatment, clinical evidence of digoxin toxicity, and timing of the blood sample relative to administration of the last dose of digoxin were collected for patients with SDCs higher than 2.6 nmol/L (>2.0 ng/mL).

Results: Of 3434 SDCs assayed in 2009 patients, 320 (9.3%) were higher than 2.6 nmol/L (>2.0 ng/mL). Fifty-one (15.9%) of the 320 SDCs were drawn at 6 hours or less following a digoxin dose. Sampling time relative to the digoxin dose could not be determined in 70 (21.9%) of the 320 elevated SDCs, leaving 199 (62.2%) of 320 SDCs in 138 patients evaluable for digoxin toxicity. Eighty-three of the 138 patients had clinical evidence of digoxin toxicity for an overall incidence of 4.1%.

Conclusions: Digoxin toxicity occurs less frequently than historically reported. Continued emphasis needs to be placed on obtaining appropriately timed SDCs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Digoxin / blood*
  • Digoxin / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Hospitals, General
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina
  • Poisoning / diagnosis
  • Time Factors


  • Digoxin