Digital (Digitalis purpurea) : side effects

Foxglove ( Digitalis purpurea ) is a medicinal plant belonging to the Scrophulariaceae family. Typical of the fresh mountain and sub-mountain forests of central-southern Europe, it is often found wild. In the past it was used for its cardiokinetic action, which is useful for the health of the heart and the circulatory system. Let’s find out the characteristics and side effects of digitalis.

Digital: characteristics and properties

Digitalis is a biennial herbaceous plant, with large and gradually decreasing basal leaves, gray-green in color. 

The flowering stem develops in the second year, the flowers are tubular and purple-red with purple spots and the fruit is a capsule that opens when ripe, releasing numerous seeds. 

Digitalis leaves contain some glycosides (digitoxin and digoxin), responsible for the cardiokinetic property. These active ingredients increase the heart rate, making the symptoms of heart failure disappear, reabsorb edema and restore diuresis.

However, digitoxin, digoxin and many other cardioactive glycosides contained in the plant’s phytocomplex are dangerous and even fatal in the event of an overdose

The side effects of Digitalis

Currently, the use of digitalis is considered inappropriate due to the high toxicity due to the cardiac glycosides it contains. In fact, the therapeutic dose in the past was about 50-60% of the fatal one.

Digitalis poisoning was very common and manifested with 

  • disturbances of the sense organs, usually ocular, 
  • bradycardia; 
  • nausea and vomit; 
  • diarrhea;
  • tachycardia; 
  • fibrillation. 

Therefore, given the high toxicity of this plant, compared to the therapeutic effect, its herbal use has been abandoned

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