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A Cheap, Old Heart Drug May Help Elderly Heart Failure Patients
Date:3/11/2013

new treatment options, rates of use for digoxin for heart failure fell from about two-thirds of patients before the study's release to one-third afterward, according to the ACC.

But many of those treatment decisions may have been premature. In the new study, researchers re-examined data on rates of 30-day hospital readmissions among the 6,800 patients in the Digitalis Investigation Group trial, half of whom were aged 65 or older.

The team found that patients taking digoxin had 34 percent lower odds of needing to go back into hospital care within a month of discharge, compared to people not taking the drug.

That's an important finding, since estimates from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid put the annual bill for unplanned hospital readmissions at more than $17 billion -- about one-sixth of all Medicare spending on hospitalizations.

Having to re-enter hospital care multiple times is also a potent risk factor for death or adverse outcomes in people with heart failure, experts note. According to the ACC, digoxin helps strengthen the heart's contraction, helping it to pump better.

One expert said the findings show the importance of re-examining older data.

The study "raises a very interesting possibility: that digitalis may still have a role despite improved modern therapies for heart failure," said Dr. Prediman Shah, director of the division of cardiology at Cedars Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. Shah said this drug, first used more than 300 years ago, "may have an incremental benefit by improving heart failure and reducing readmission rates in patients who are otherwise well-treated."

Shah said digoxin costs mere pennies per day. If that small investment could reduce the rate of expensive hospital readmissions, that would not only help patients but also aid "hospital systems in terms of their finances," he said.

Might this new data help trigger a shift back to the widespread use of digoxin for heart fai
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