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Aug 12, 2013

Medication Adherence Lowers Heart Disease Risk

Taking heart medications properly greatly reduces risk for complications and death, study finds.

Heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States, but we’ve come a long way with the treatment and prevention of the disease. When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, medications can be extremely effective in helping people live longer, healthier lives. For patients with risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, medication can help delay or even prevent the development of heart disease. And for patients already living with heart disease, medication can help slow disease progression and prevent serious complications. Medication is life-saving for many patients but as a recent study points out, is only effective when taken correctly.

Published in the European Heart Journal, this article reviewed 44 research studies to see if patients adhering to cardiovascular medications had better outcomes compared to those with poor adherence.  Together, these studies encompassed nearly 2 million heart patients across the globe, all of which were prescribed cardiovascular medications, such as statins (cholesterol-lowering medications) and antihypertensives (drugs used to treat high blood pressure). After analysis, researchers found that only 60% of participants had “good” adherence to their medications. And compared to those with poor medication adherence, those adhering closely to medications had 15-19% lower risk of developing heart disease and 29-45% lower risk of death, depending on the type of heart medication. Researchers estimate that among European patients, about 9% of deaths from heart disease are could be due to poor adherence.

Experts wonder if these findings could be due to what they call the “healthy adherer effect,” where people with good adherence tend to have other healthier behaviors and vice versa. Although more research is needed to rule this explanation out, there’s no question that medication, when taken correctly, can help improve outcomes for many patients. And when patients fail to take medications as prescribed, the drugs are not as effective as they could be, or worse, can actually harm one’s health. For tips and tools to help you take medications as prescribed, visit CardioSmart’s Drugs & Treatments section or download our Med Reminder app to get alerts to your phone.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is medication adherence?
  • Medication adherence means taking the proper dose of medication at the right time and in the right way for as long as you're supposed to. Taking a medication incorrectly or not at all can render the drug ineffective, or worse, have a negative effect on your health.
  • How can patients help improve medication adherence on their own?

  • Patients can help improve adherence by understanding how their medications work, taking their medications at the same time(s) each day, using notes or alarms as reminders to take medications, and allowing family or friends to help support them.


Resources to Help You Compare Treatment Options

Guidance from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in making health decisions

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