Antidotes for acute cardenolide (cardiac glycoside) poisoning

Cardenolides are naturally occurring plant toxins which act primarily on the heart. While poisoning with the digitalis cardenolides (digoxin and digitoxin) are reported worldwide, cardiotoxicity from other cardenolides such as the yellow oleander are also a major problem, with tens of thousands of cases of poisoning each year in South Asia. Because cardenolides from these plants are structurally similar, acute poisonings are managed using similar treatments. The benefit of these treatments is of interest, particularly in the context of cost since most poisonings occur in developing countries where resources are very limited. The objectives of this review are to determine the efficacy of antidotes for the treatment of acute cardenolide poisoning, in particular atropine, isoprenaline (isoproterenol), multiple-dose activated charcoal (MDAC), fructose-1,6-diphosphate, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium, phenytoin and antidigoxin Fab antitoxin.

Two randomised controlled trials were identified; both were conducted in patients with yellow oleander poisoning. One trial investigated the effect of MDAC on mortality, the relative risk (RR) was 0.31 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.12 to 0.83) indicating a beneficial effect. The second study found a beneficial effect of anti-digoxin Fab antitoxin on the presence of cardiac dysrhythmias at two hours post-administration; the RR was 0.60 (95% CI 0.44 to 0.81). Other benefits were also noted in both studies and serious adverse effects were minimal. Studies assessing the effect of antidotes on other cardenolides were not identified. One ongoing study investigating the activated charcoal for acute yellow oleander self-poisoning was also identified. There is some evidence to suggest that MDAC and anti-digoxin Fab antitoxin may be effective treatments for yellow oleander poisoning. However, the efficacy and indications of these interventions for the treatment of acute digitalis poisoning is uncertain due to the lack of good quality controlled clinical trials. Given pharmacokinetic differences between individual cardenolides, the effect of antidotes administered to patients with yellow oleander poisoning cannot be readily translated to those of other cardenolides. Unfortunately cost limits the use of antidotes such as anti-digoxin Fab antitoxin in developing countries where cardenolide poisonings are frequent. More research is required using relatively cheap antidotes which may also be effective.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is some evidence to suggest that MDAC and anti-digoxin Fab antitoxin may be effective treatments for yellow oleander poisoning. However, the efficacy and indications of these interventions for the treatment of acute digitalis poisoning is uncertain due to the lack of good quality controlled clinical trials. Given pharmacokinetic differences between individual cardenolides, the effect of antidotes administered to patients with yellow oleander poisoning cannot be readily translated to those of other cardenolides. Unfortunately cost limits the use of antidotes such as anti-digoxin Fab antitoxin in developing countries where cardenolide poisonings are frequent. More research is required using relatively cheap antidotes which may also be effective.

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Background: 

Cardenolides are naturally occurring plant toxins which act primarily on the heart. While poisoning with the digitalis cardenolides (digoxin and digitoxin) are reported worldwide, cardiotoxicity from other cardenolides such as the yellow oleander are also a major problem, with tens of thousands of cases of poisoning each year in South Asia. Because cardenolides from these plants are structurally similar, acute poisonings are managed using similar treatments. The benefit of these treatments is of interest, particularly in the context of cost since most poisonings occur in developing countries where resources are very limited.

Objectives: 

To determine the efficacy of antidotes for the treatment of acute cardenolide poisoning, in particular atropine, isoprenaline (isoproterenol), multiple-dose activated charcoal (MDAC), fructose-1,6-diphosphate, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium, phenytoin and anti-digoxin Fab antitoxin.

Search strategy: 

We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Controlled Trials Register of the Cochrane Collaboration, Current Awareness in Clinical Toxicology, Info Trac, www.google.com.au, and Science Citation Index of studies identified by the previous searches. We manually searched the bibliographies of identified articles and personally contacted experts in the field.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials where antidotes were administered to patients with acute symptomatic cardenolide poisoning were identified.

Data collection and analysis: 

We independently extracted data on study design, including the method of randomisation, participant characteristics, type of intervention and outcomes from each study. We independently assessed methodological quality of the included studies. A pooled analysis was not appropriate.

Main results: 

Two randomised controlled trials were identified, both were conducted in patients with yellow oleander poisoning. One trial investigated the effect of MDAC on mortality, the relative risk (RR) was 0.31 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.12 to 0.83) indicating a beneficial effect. The second study found a beneficial effect of anti-digoxin Fab antitoxin on the presence of cardiac dysrhythmias at two hours post-administration; the RR was 0.60 (95% CI 0.44 to 0.81). Other benefits were also noted in both studies and serious adverse effects were minimal. Studies assessing the effect of antidotes on other cardenolides were not identified. One ongoing study investigating the activated charcoal for acute yellow oleander self-poisoning was also identified.

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