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Pills’ Shapes and Colors can cause Patients to Stop Taking them

Update Date: Jul 15, 2014 09:44 AM EDT

For patients with a medication regimen, remembering to take pills is vital. In a new study, researchers examined the effects that different pill colors and shapes have on people's adherence to their medications. The team found that when generic drugs get makeovers, people are more likely to forget their pills and stop using them.

"We can only say there's an association," commented lead researcher, Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA, reported by Philly. "We think it's a real association. It happens with my own patients. They'll notice a change, and then call, and we have to give them reassurance."

In this study, the team examined more than 15,000 medical records of Americans who had been hospitalized for a heart attack from 2006 to 2011. The patients had been prescribed the generic version of at least one of four heart drugs, which were a beta-blocker, ACE inhibitor, angiotensin II-receptor blocker or a statin. Throughout the course of the study, 29 percent of the patients saw change in their pills' color or shape.

The researchers found that after a change in pill color, people were 34 percent more likely to stop taking their pills. If patients saw a change in their pill shape, they were 66 percent more likely to stop taking their medication. After a change, the patients were more likely to completely forgo their medication regimen for at least one month in comparison to people whose pills did not change.

The researchers were unsure why patients were more likely to stop taking their medications when a change occurred. However, they reasoned that when patients are not informed about these changes, they might think that something is wrong with their medications or that they received the wrong pills.

"There are many factors that affect people's medication compliance. This is one of the first studies to show that pill appearance is one," said Dr. Kevin Marzo, chief of cardiology at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. "In heart attack survivors, a lack of adherence to medications could be a life-or-death situation,"

Kesselheim added, "Patients need to know that it's common for generics to change their appearance, and that doesn't mean they're working any differently."

The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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