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Jul 23, 2013

Skipping Blood Pressure Medication Increases Stroke Risk

Poor adherence or non-adherence to medication drastically increases stroke risk in patients with high blood pressure.

High blood pressure, commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” often has no symptoms and greatly increases risk for heart attack and stroke. The good news is that high blood pressure can be diagnosed very easily and controlled with lifestyle changes and medication, when necessary. The bad news, however, is that less than half of patients diagnosed with high blood pressure have their condition under control. Many patients with high blood pressure are prescribed medication to help lower blood pressure levels, but may fail to take them properly. And according to a recent study published in the European Heart Journal, not taking blood pressure medications properly drastically increases stroke risk in patients with hypertension.

This study followed more than 73,500 Finnish patients with high blood pressure for 10 years, tracking which patients took their medication as prescribed and which took them improperly or not at all. After 10 years, researchers found that poorer medication adherence increased stroke risk in both the short- and long-term. Over the 10-year period, patients failing to adhere to blood pressure lowering medications were 3-7 times more likely to suffer a stroke than patients adhering to medications, depending on the combination of prescribed medications. And during the year in which patients suffered a stroke, their stroke risk was nearly six times greater if they did not properly adhere to medications. Simply put, the poorer the adherence to medication, the greater the risk of stroke for patients with high blood pressure.

This study highlights the importance of medication adherence for patients with high blood pressure. Blood pressure medications are one of the best weapons against hypertension and when taken properly, can help control blood pressure levels and reduce risk of heart attack and stroke. However, medications can only do their job when taken correctly, which means taking the proper dose of medication at the right time and in the right way for as long as you’re supposed to. Failing to adhere to medication can not only render the drug ineffective, it can be dangerous and pose a threat to your health. To learn more about medication adherence, visit CardioSmart’s Drugs & Treatments section with drug information and tools that make it easy to take your prescribed medications.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can patients improve blood pressure through lifestyle changes?
  • To help lower blood pressure, patients should follow a healthy, low-sodium and high-potassium diet, increase physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, avoid tobacco use, and better manage stress levels.
  • Who is at risk for high blood pressure?
  • Risk for hypertension increases with age, and most adults will eventually be affected by this condition at some time in their lives. However, diabetes, obesity, stress, high sodium intake, tobacco use and excessive alcohol use can greatly increase risk for high blood pressure.

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