That news comes from a Canadian study, in which drug cost to patients wasn't a major factor.
The new study, published online in Circulation, makes three main points:
- Filling all prescriptions, not just some of them, is a must after a heart attack.
- Heart attack survivors may be more likely to fill prescriptions if they get medication counseling.
- Doctors should follow up with patients one or two weeks after a patient's heart attack to make sure all prescriptions have been filled.
The findings are based on prescription records for about 4,500 heart attack survivors (average age: 76) in Ontario.
All of the patients were given prescriptions after their heart attacks. Those prescriptions included cardiac drugs -- such as ACE inhibitors, statins, and beta-blockers -- as well as noncardiac drugs including supplements, antibiotics, antidepressants, and respiratory medications.
Most of the patients -- 74% -- filled all of their prescriptions within four months. And most did so within one week.
Unfilled Prescriptions, Higher Death Rate
Patients who delayed or dismissed their prescriptions had higher death rates in the first year after heart attack.
In the first year after heart attack, the odds of dying were 80% higher for those who filled none of their prescriptions within four months, compared with those who filled all of their prescriptions.
Death risk during the first year after heart attack was 44% higher for patients who only filled some of their prescriptions within four months, compared with those who filled all of their prescriptions within three months.
Older patients and those who already had a lot of prescriptions before their heart attack were less likely to fill all of their post-heart attack prescriptions.
But regardless of age, "it would be prudent to follow up with patients one to two weeks after discharge," write the researchers. They included Cynthia Jackevicius, BSc, MSc, PharmD, of Ontario's University Health Network.
Filling prescriptions is just the first step. Previous research has shown that patients don't always take their drugs. It's not clear if the patients in Jackevicius' study took their prescribed pills.