Harvard Heart Letter

For best results, take your medications as prescribed

If you want to prevent heart disease or its consequences, take your blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart medications as prescribed. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School reviewed 25 large studies that looked at how faithfully people took their medications. Of the five studies conducted in healthy people taking medications to prevent heart disease, four found that taking cholesterol-lowering statins at least 80% of the time reduced heart risk 18% to 19%: one found that failing to take blood pressure medication as prescribed increased the risk of needing hospitalization for a heart attack by 15% (American Journal of Medicine, April 2013).

Twenty studies had been conducted in people who had already suffered a heart attack. Findings included the following:

  • Taking a statin faithfully reduced the risk of being hospitalized, suffering a recurrent heart attack, or dying: taking a statin only occasionally increased the risk of dying by 25% over taking the medication faithfully.

  • Women who failed to take a prescribed beta blocker had more than double the risk of death than women who took the medication as prescribed.

  • Failure to take an antiplatelet drug after angioplasty and stenting increased the risk of death nearly 7% in the first 11 months.

  • Stopping the anti-arrhythmia drug amiodarone (Cordarone, Pacerone) greatly increased the risk of death from cardiac and other causes.

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