Heart failure: active ingredient from red foxglove is said to improve therapy

Heart failure: active ingredient from red foxglove is said to improve therapy

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Heart failure therapy should be improved

According to experts, around three million people in Germany suffer from chronic advanced heart failure (heart failure). With the right therapy, the course of the disease can usually be significantly improved today. An important part of treatment is taking medication. A large-scale study is now examining the effectiveness of a drug that is obtained from the leaves of the red foxglove.

As the Medical University of Hanover (MHH) explains in a current communication, about three million people in Germany suffer from chronic advanced heart failure. The disease is one of the most common reasons why patients have to be admitted to hospital or die from the consequences. Scientists at the MHH Cardiology and Angiology Clinic are testing the effectiveness of the drug Digitoxin.

An important part of the treatment

Taking medication is an important part of the therapy for heart failure, which experts call heart failure. According to the German Heart Foundation, no fewer than six different groups of medications are available to treat heart failure (e.g. ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, dehydrating agents, cardiac glycosides, etc.).

One drug that is used here is digitoxin. This is obtained from the leaves of the red foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), as explained on the public health portal of Austria "".

"Digitoxin has a narrow therapeutic index - i.e. the concentration range between underdosing (ineffectiveness of the drug) and overdosing (toxic side effects of the drug) is narrow," it continues.

Can the drug extend the lives of those affected?

The clinical study at the MHH under the direction of senior physician Professor Dr. Udo Bavendiek and Clinic Director Professor Dr. Johann Bauersachs is to clarify whether digitoxin extends the life of patients with advanced heart failure and reduces hospital stays.

Already examined over 800 patients

The human heart is a high-performance motor. It beats about 70 times a minute and pumps around five liters of blood through the vessels during this time. It supplies the body with vital oxygen and nutrients.

If this pumping capacity is reduced, doctors speak of chronic heart failure or heart failure. The consequences are shortness of breath, poor resilience, water retention up to immobility, severe rhythm disorders or death.

"As part of the study, we have already examined more than 800 patients in around 40 study centers where the usual therapies have been exhausted," explains Professor Bauersachs. These include preparations that inhibit excessively activated hormone cascades in heart failure and thus relieve the heart (e.g. beta-blockers) as well as dehydrating agents (diuretics).

Defibrillators, which are inserted as an implant in the patient's body, also help against acute rhythm disorders.

Hope for seriously ill people

As the MHH communication goes on to say, digitoxin as a so-called value-added drug could be a hope for seriously ill people. Digitoxin belongs to the group of active substances known as cardiac glycosides (digitalis), which were originally obtained from the foxglove.

Digitalis increases the contraction power of the heart and has been used in medicine for around 200 years. However, the benefits of heart failure have not been sufficiently demonstrated. Previous scientific studies were carried out almost exclusively with the cardiac glycoside digoxin.

However, digoxin can only be used to a limited extent in the case of impaired kidney function - this is often the case in patients with advanced heart failure - since it is almost exclusively excreted by the kidney.

Also suitable for kidney weakness

"The situation is different with Digitoxin," says Professor Bavendiek. Because in the event of impaired kidney function, the drug is increasingly excreted via the intestine. The drug, which has already been approved, is therefore unproblematic even for previously stressed patients with kidney weakness, which has also been confirmed by results from previous studies.

"Correctly dosed, digitoxin is a safe therapy for heart failure and atrial fibrillation," says Professor Bavendiek. The scientists now want to finally clarify whether it actually helps heart failure patients to live longer and better. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Hannover Medical School (MHH): MHH doctors want to improve therapy for heart failure, (accessed: December 17, 2019), Hannover Medical School (MHH)
  • German Heart Foundation: Which medications can help with heart failure? (Accessed: December 17, 2019), German Heart Foundation
  • Public health portal of Austria "": Digimerck, (accessed: December 17th, 2019),

Video: Cardiovascular Medications (December 2022).