Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Faith in medications fades

A heart attack or diagnosis of heart disease tends to spark a flurry of changes that often include a new regimen of pills. Most people religiously take their pills for a few months. After that, all too many begin to lapse; some soon stop taking medications that are meant to be taken indefinitely, like aspirin, a heart-protecting statin, an ACE inhibitor, or a beta blocker.

Inertia and the gradual fading of the sense of urgency contribute. Belief in the importance and effect of the medicines also plays a role. Duke University Medical Center researchers asked more than 800 men and women who had been hospitalized for an acute coronary syndrome about their attitudes toward their medications. Three months after their hospitalizations, most of the participants strongly believed in the importance and value of their medications. A year later, one-third weren't so sure about the necessity of the drugs, were concerned about becoming too dependent on them, worried about the potential for unwanted side effects, or found the drugs too bothersome to take (American Heart Journal, April 2010).

Taking pills day after day is hard, more so if you have a complicated regimen of multiple medicines that don't necessarily make you feel better, but instead quietly protect your heart and arteries. Why bother? For the same reason you go through the trouble and expense of painting a house or rustproofing a car — it can add years to the life of what you are protecting.

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