Some Patients Forgo Life-Saving Meds Because of Color, Shape


The look of many generic and brand-name drugs differ even though they contain the same dosage of medication. But that doesn’t keep some patients from preferring one over the other based on nothing more than how the pills look.

A new study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s found that some cardiac patients are less likely to take potentially life-saving medications if the pill is not the shape or color they are used to taking.

The researchers analyzed medical records of more than 11,000 patients nationwide discharged from the hospital between 2006 and 2011 after suffering a heart attack. The patients were either prescribed generic versions of a cholesterol-lowering drug called statins, hypertension drugs called beta-blockers, ACE inihibitors, or angiotensin-II-receptor blockers.


During a two-refill period, the pill shape or color changed for 29 percent of patients. The look of statins changed most often among users while beta-blockers had the fewest changes.

Patients whose pill color changed were 34 percent more likely to stop taking the medication than those whose pills did not change.

Patients whose pill color changed also were 66 percent more likely to stop using the drug entirely, the study found.

The findings were published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Some patients may stop taking the pills after they recieve ones with a different look because they might be confused and they may question whether they’re taking the same drug, the researchers wrote. Some may also be used to swallowing a certain shape and are uncomfortable with change. But stopping these prescribed medications could worsen their heart condition or even be fatal, according to the researchers.

“After patients have a first heart attack, guidelines mandate treatment with an array of long-term medications and stopping these medications may ultimately increase morbidity and mortality,’’ Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and lead author of the study said in a public statement.


The study did not look at the health effects of the patients who stopped taking these drugs.

While this study only looked at cardiac patients, previous studies suggest that the appearance of pills also impacted whether people with other medical conditions, such as epilepsy, continued the drug.

“This study suggests the need for physicians and pharmacists to proactively warn patients about the potential for these changes, and reassure them that generic drugs are clinically interchangeable no matter how they look,’’ Kesselheim said.

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