Digitalis for treatment of congestive heart failure in patients in sinus rhythm.
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BACKGROUND: Digitalis glycosides have been in clinical use in the treatment of congestive heart failure for more than 200 years. In recent years several trials have been conducted to address concerns about efficacy and toxicity. Although a systematic review of the literature was recently published, an update is required to include more current trials. OBJECTIVES: To examine the effectiveness of digitalis glycosides in treating congestive heart failure in patients with normal sinus rhythm. To examine the effect of digitalis in patients taking diuretics, ACE inhibitors, and beta blockers; patients with varying severity and duration of disease; patients with prior exposure to digitalis vs. no prior exposure; and patients with diastolic vs. systolic dysfunction. SEARCH STRATEGY: Electronic databases were searched between 1966 and 2000. Dissertation Abstracts and annual meeting abstracts of the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and European Society of Cardiology were searched from 1996-2000. In addition, reference lists provided by the pharmaceutical industry (Glaxo Wellcome Inc.) were searched. SELECTION CRITERIA: Included were randomized placebo-controlled trials of 20 or more adult patients of either sex with symptomatic congestive heart failure who were studied for seven weeks or more. Excluded were trials in which the prevalence of atrial fibrillation was 2% or greater, or in which any arrhythmia that might compromise cardiac function or any potentially reversible cause of heart failure such as acute ischemic heart disease or myocarditis was present. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Articles selected from the searches described above were reviewed by one of the coauthors, and validated by staff from the central office of the Heart Collaborative Review Group in Bristol, UK. MAIN RESULTS: Eleven articles meeting the defined criteria were identified, and major endpoints of mortality, hospitalization, and clinical status, based respectively upon on 8, 4, and 10 of these selected studies, were recorded and analyzed. The data show that there is no difference in mortality between treatment and control groups, whereas digitalis therapy is associated with a lower rate of hospitalization and of clinical deterioration. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: The literature indicates that digitalis has a useful role in the treatment of patients with congestive heart failure who are in normal sinus rhythm.
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