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.

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