Heart Patients More Likely to Skip Pills If They Look Different

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Generic drugs are crucial to the treatment of heart disease. Generics save lives in our heart patients, ranging from blood pressure meds and blood thinners to anti-arrhythmic drugs. They are cheap and well tolerated. Why is it, then, that so many patients stop taking them? One half of patients with heart disease don’t take their meds even in the year after a heart attack. Turns out, the way they look matters. You lost me at red?

Generic drugs may be therapeutically interchangeable but they are not required to look the same as their brand name counterparts, and that bugs people . . . on a deep level.

A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a change in the shape or color of your generic medication makes you more likely to skip it. One third of patients had a change in pill shape or color during their study with statins having the biggest changes in appearance. The odds of stopping your medication increased 34% after a change in pill color and 66% after a change in pill shape. What?!

This is a huge public health issue and I get it, if you don’t recognize the pill you don’t trust it as much. Conversations with your doctor, pharmacist, and maybe a label on your pill container to explain that your pill has changed appearance will certainly help. Or the FDA could require that compatible generic drugs look exactly the same.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and the period after heart attack is a key time when taking proper medications saves lives. Changing the color and shape of your generic medication makes you stop taking them. So, how can we help? What would work?

Dr O.

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