July 29, 2014—When drug companies change the color or shape of generic medications such as ACE inhibitors and beta blockers, heart attack patients—whose lives may depend on these drugs—often stop taking them, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Although generic medications must meet the same U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards for quality, strength and purity as their brand-name counterparts, there are no industry standards for the shapes or colors of pills. And as the study’s authors noted, changes in the way a generic drug looks can undermine patients’ confidence in their prescriptions or cause confusion that could lead to serious problems.
About the study
Researchers reviewed health data for 11,513 men and women in the U.S. who were hospitalized for heart attacks between 2006 and 2011. All were subsequently treated for heart disease with a generic version—in pill form—of one of these:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor.
- Angiotensin II-receptor blocker.
- Beta blocker.
In the 12 months following their respective heart attacks, 3,286 of the patients (nearly 29 percent) had a change in either the color or the shape of their pill.
When a pill’s color changed: The odds of the patient stopping his or her drug regimen—called nonpersistence—increased by 34 percent.
When a pill’s shape changed: Nonpersistence increased by 66 percent.
The study’s authors acknowledged that they evaluated only three classes of drugs, and they did not examine the problems these people faced when they stopped using their drugs. Nevertheless, they noted, many other studies have linked patients quitting their meds with subsequent health problems.
Find the complete study here.
|The take-home message|
|This study is important, especially since cardiovascular disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. The more researchers can find out why people don’t take their medications, the more they might be able to convince people to use the tools available to keep their hearts healthy, particularly during that key time period that follows a heart attack.
But there are some things you can do, too, in order to ensure that you’re taking your heart pills properly.
If you refill a prescription and your pills look a little different than those you’re used to, ask your pharmacist to talk things over with you. There might be a simple explanation. Or consider using the same pharmacy each time. That might reduce the chance of a change in appearance.
If your pills look different and you’re thinking of stopping their use, have a heart-to-heart talk with your doctor first. In fact, talk to your doctor before you quit your medications for any reason at all. Tell him or her if:
Taking medication as prescribed could mean the difference between life and death, so it’s vital to talk to your doctor right away before you make any big decisions.
Need another reason to stick with your medications? Check out this article on the power of statins.