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Heart Patients Often Forget Medication

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WebMD Health News

March 10, 2004 -- Suffering from a life-threatening event such as a heart attack might serve as a wake-up call to many, but a new study shows many heart patients simply forget to take potentially life-saving medications as prescribed by their doctor.

Researchers found more than 50% of people who were hospitalized for heart attack or severe chest pain didn't take heart medications that are proven to reduce their risk of death as directed, and forgetfulness was the primary culprit.

"It appears that we need to find better ways of helping patients remember to take their pills, so they and our health-care system can get the best result," says researcher Kim A. Eagle, MD, clinical director of the University of Michigan's cardiovascular center, in a news release.

The results of the study were presented this week at the Annual Scientific Session of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans.

Why Heart Patients Don't Take Their Medicine

In the study, researchers followed 154 patients who had been hospitalized for either a heart attack or severe chest pain. Most were prescribed some or all of the four major classes of drugs used to treat patients with cardiovascular disease, including:

  • Anticlotting drugs, such as aspirin
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Beta-blockers
  • Cholesterol-lowering statins

Researchers contacted the patients six months after they left the hospital and asked them about how often they took their prescribed medications based on a standard questionnaire.

The study showed that more than 50% of the patients said they didn't always take their medications as directed. The main reasons they gave for not keeping up with their medication schedule was forgetfulness followed by carelessness.

A small number of patients said they didn't take their drugs when they felt better or when they felt worse.

The study also showed that about 10% of the patients said they had stopped taking one of their heart medications altogether. Of those, more than half said their doctors had told them that one or more of the four drugs was "not necessary."

Another 9% of those who stopped taking a heart medication said they had done so because they didn't like the side effects, and 5% said they couldn't afford to buy the drug.

Researchers say all four of the heart medications studied are available in inexpensive generic forms, and the cost per month could be as low as $50, depending on which drugs are prescribed.

"Further studies in broader populations are desperately needed, so we can understand the reasons behind nonadherence in order to improve compliance with medication schedules, and as a result improve patients' health status," says Eagle. "All the studies in the world showing how well these drugs work as preventive agents don't mean anything if patients aren't taking them."

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