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First Aid for Foxglove Poisoning

Last updated Feb. 27, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Foxglove Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of the plant or plant product containing the compound.

What is Foxglove Poisoning?

  • Foxgloves (belonging to Digitalis species) are bright flowering plants found all over Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. The chemical compound digoxin, commonly used to treat heart-related conditions, is extracted from this plant
  • Foxglove Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of the plant or plant product containing the compound. All parts of this ornamental garden plant including the flowers, leaves, and shoots, are considered poisonous
  • The condition is diagnosed based upon the clinical history, combination of signs and symptoms, and additional tests (that may include, in some cases, radiological studies and laboratory tests)

Foxglove Poisoning may be also referred to variously as the following:

  • Common Foxglove Poisoning
  • Dead Man’s Bells Poisoning
  • Digitalis Purpurea Poisoning
  • Foxglove Toxicity
  • Revebjelle Poisoning
  • Willow-Leaved Foxglove Poisoning
  • Witch's Gloves Poisoning

What are the Causes of Foxglove Poisoning?

  • Foxglove Poisoning is caused by eating foxglove plant or plant products
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • The toxins contained in the plant are termed cardiac and steroidal glycosides including deslanoside, digitoxin, and digitalis glycoside
  • All parts of the plant (roots, seeds, leaves, stems, and flowers) may contain the toxin

Note: The compound can interact with other prescribed or non-prescribed medications in the body. Such interactions may enhance the therapeutic effects of other medications being taken, resulting in undesired side effects.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Foxglove Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Most cases of toxicity are observed in children below the age of 6 years.

The signs and symptoms of Foxglove Poisoning may include:

  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Appetite loss
  • Pain in the stomach and abdomen
  • Weakness, lethargy
  • Headaches
  • When the heart is affected, it may lead to:
    • Irregular heart-rate
    • Reduced blood pressure (hypotension)
    • Syncope or collapse
  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Vision abnormalities including blurred vision
  • Skin rashes and hives due to an allergic reaction
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • In case of severe or prolonged toxicity - depression and appearance of halo around objects may be seen

How is First Aid administered for Foxglove Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Foxglove Poisoning:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency help number immediately, for emergency assistance
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for further instructions
  • Provide them with information such as the compound taken, quantity and time of ingestion, age, weight and general health status of affected individual
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • Unless instructed by a healthcare professional, DO NOT induce vomiting in the affected individual
  • Clean the mouth to remove any remaining pieces; wipe mouth with a wet cloth
  • Take individual to emergency room (ER) for further treatment
  • Always try to take the plant or plant product to the ER

The emergency medical health professional might perform the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Gastric lavage for elimination of substance from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Medically manage symptoms and provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Administer suitable medication to counter the effects of the toxin
  • Administer activated charcoal to avoid absorbance of the substance in the body
  • Administer laxatives for elimination of the substance from the body
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line, if necessary

Who should administer First Aid for Foxglove Poisoning?

First aid for Foxglove Poisoning is administered by healthcare professionals.

  • The individual who is affected, or someone near, should call 911 for emergency assistance (or the local emergency number)
  • They should also call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow instructions

What is the Prognosis of Foxglove Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Foxglove Poisoning is dependent on the amount of substance consumed, time between consumption and treatment, severity of the symptoms, as well as general health status of the patient
  • If the individual can recover from the symptoms that occur due to mild poisoning, the outcome is generally good, with appropriate medication and early support. In many cases, most of the affected individuals are known to recover within 1-3 days
  • In case of severe symptoms due to poisoning, it may worsen the outcome and/or prolong time of recovery. Children are generally known to be affected more severely

In general, toxicities are common situations in the emergency departments. A majority of the cases are often not fatal, when appropriate treatment is given.

How can Foxglove Poisoning be Prevented?

Foxglove Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Avoiding eating wild berries and plants, especially if you have no information about them
  • Following working in the garden or fields, hiking, or camping, always wash hands thoroughly, prior to eating anything
  • Always follow instructions for usage of any health or cosmetic products
  • Keeping cosmetics, medications, and other healthcare products out of reach of children in child-proof containers
  • Being aware of basic first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as inadvertent poisoning)

It is important to give your healthcare provider a complete list of prescription and non-prescription medications that are being currently taken. This will help them in assessing the possible drug interactions within various medications and help avoid/prevent accidental or unintentional toxic drug effects.

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number) for emergency assistance, if symptoms are life-threatening
  • Call Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow the recommend steps
  • It would be helpful if the following information is readily available:
    • Type, amount and time of consumption of the substance
    • Age and weight of the individual
    • And, the overall health status of the individual

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 6, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 27, 2018