Not Taking Necessary Medications Can Sabotage Health, from the November 2013 Harvard Heart Letter

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Only 20% of people take their medications as prescribed. Cost and access are big parts of the problem, but people who understand their disease risks and make peace with their need for medication are more likely to take them as prescribed.

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Up to 80% of people—including more than half of those who've recently had a heart attack—don't take their medications as prescribed, reports the November 2013 Harvard Heart Letter.

There are many different ways people fail to take their medications. Some take their pills erratically, forgetting to take the proper dosages or deliberately taking their pills every other day. Some take their medications like clockwork for a while, and then stop. Others never even get their prescriptions filled.

Cost is a big part of the problem. "Affordability—what people pay out of pocket—is a big barrier," says Dr. Niteesh K. Choudry, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an expert in medication taking. "People should ask their doctors about the costs of the medications being prescribed, which may influence the prescriber's choices.

But even when prescriptions are affordable, getting to the pharmacy to fill them is a challenge for many people because of location, advanced age, or frailty. And complex drug regimens—take this pill three times a day with food, take that one every 12 hours on an empty stomach—can make it difficult or impossible for even the most committed people to take their medications perfectly.

Finally, taking a pill every day is a constant reminder of illness. That can be difficult to face, especially if the pills don't appear to "do anything." Lower cholesterol or lower blood pressure don't usually make people feel better, and there's no way to feel how such changes are improving artery health.

But ultimately, says Dr. Choudhry, people have to make peace with their medications. "You say, ‘Hey, this cholesterol drug may actually prevent me from having another heart attack; this blood pressure medicine may keep me from having a stroke.'" In other words, keep your eye on the prize—a longer healthier life. Taking medications as prescribed, along with healthy eating and exercise, are steps to that goal.

Read the full-length article: "Make peace with your prescriptions"

Also in the November 2013 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter:

  •     Cardiac rehab cuts death risk, improves life
  •     Treating high blood pressure helps the brain
  •     8-step plan for heart-healthy holiday dinners

The Harvard Heart Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

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Kristen Rapoza
Harvard Health Publications
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