Apr 4, 2014

What's in a Name, Digitalis

The first known heart medicine was discovered in an English garden. In 1799, physician John Ferriar noted the effect of dried leaves of the common plant, digitalis purpurea, on heart action. The scientific name means "finger-like" and refers to the ease with which a flower of digitalis purpurea can be fitted over a human fingertip. The term digitalis is also used for drug preparations that contain cardiac glycosides, particularly one called digoxin, extracted from various plants of this genus. Digoxin was approved for heart failure in 1998. Also, a group of medicines extracted from foxglove plants are called Digitalin.

Once the usefulness of digitalis in regulating the human pulse was understood, it was employed for a variety of purposes, including the treatment of epilepsy and other seizure disorders, but is now considered to be inappropriate treatment. The most common prescription form of this medication is called digoxin. Digitoxin is another form of digitalis.

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