Harvard Heart Letter

What happens when heart drug refills look different?

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People who are prescribed generic medications after a heart attack are more likely to stop taking them if their refill pills are a different color or shape, according to a study in Annals of Internal Medicine. Generic versions of medications often look different from one another and from the brand-name versions, even though in general they work equally well. Doctors often prescribe generics to prevent or treat heart disease because they are widely available and more affordable than brand-name drugs.

The study included more than 11,000 heart attack survivors who were prescribed generic drugs. By tracking their refill habits over the following year, researchers found that more than a third of the participants stopped taking a medication. Quitting a drug was 66% more likely among those whose refilled pills were a different shape and 34% more likely if the pills were a different color.

Taking heart medications consistently is vital for preventing future heart attacks and other problems. So if your refill pills look different, keep taking them—provided the drug name and dose is correct. If you're not sure, check with your pharmacist or physician.

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