(HealthDay News) — Patients with atrial fibrillation who take digoxin may face a nearly 30% greater risk of death than patients not taking the drug, a review of prior research suggests. The findings are to be presented March 15 at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, held from March 14–16 in San Diego.

The studies included in the new review were conducted between 1960–2014. Of 458,311 atrial fibrillation patients in the pooled analysis, 111,978 were taking digoxin.

Those taking digoxin were found to face a 21% greater risk of death from a heart-related issue, and a 27% greater risk of death from any cause, compared to patients not taking the drug. Although digoxin was also linked to a higher risk for death among patients diagnosed with both atrial fibrillation and heart failure, that association appeared somewhat weaker, according to the researchers. An especially high risk (60–70% increase in mortality) was seen for patients with both atrial fibrillation and kidney failure, compared to that seen for similar patients not taking digoxin.

“We found a very strong signal that a significant portion of digoxin users faced an increased risk for death, vs. those who took other medications,” Waqas Qureshi, MD, a clinical and research fellow of cardiology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC, told HealthDay. “Even though this is just a pooling of data from other studies which needs to be confirmed by clinical trials, the message for now is that other first-line medications – such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers – should be tried first.”

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