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Not taking necessary medications can sabotage health, from the November 2013 Harvard Heart Letter

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 this issue of the Harvard Heart Letter

  • Make peace with your prescriptions
  • Ask the doctor: Vitamin E for the heart
  • Ask the doctor: Smoking: cut back or cut it out?
  • Don't skip cardiac rehab after a heart event
  • For a healthy brain, treat high blood pressure
  • Aortic valve disease: Surgical or transcatheter replacement?
  • 8-step plan for heart-healthy holiday dinners
  • Pacemaker safe after age 90
  • Research we're watching: Fruit fights aortic aneurysms
  • Research we're watching: Obese teens' hearts in trouble
  • Research we're watching: From the cutting edge: Patch heals heart

More Harvard Health News »


About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.