A qualitative study of digoxin injection before dilation and evacuation

McNamara B

Russo J

Chaiken S

Jacobson J

Kerns J

Jun 2018



We sought to qualitatively understand patients’ experiences with digoxin as a step before dilation and evacuation (D&E).

Study design

We recruited English-speaking women from one abortion health center where digoxin is routinely used before D&E. We interviewed participants one to three weeks after the D&E about physical and emotional experiences with digoxin and understanding of its purpose. Using grounded theory, we analyzed transcripts iteratively, identifying themes from interviews; we stopped recruitment when we reached thematic saturation.


We conducted 20 interviews and participants described mixed experiences. Three overarching themes from the qualitative interviews were: (1) physical and emotional discomfort; (2) varied understanding of digoxin’s purpose and effects; and (3) reassurance. Most participants described significantly negative experiences with digoxin; however, many participants also described positive aspects of the injection intermingled with those negative experiences.


Participants’ experiences with digoxin before D&E were both polarized and nuanced. While participants were largely clear about digoxin’s action, they were much less clear about the reason for its use.


Both the clinical purpose for and patients’ experiences with digoxin before D&E are complicated. Providers who continue to use digoxin should consider patient preferences in how they offer digoxin, and consider tools to ensure patient understanding.