The High Cost of Stopping Your Heart Meds

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If the blood supply is cut to your heart, it suffers an injury. This is called a heart attack. The cause is typically blocked blood flow through a major artery due to a clot. Because the heart requires a constant, never-ending flow of blood, any interruption to this can damage or even destroy part of your body’s most important muscle.

 In the past, anyone who suffered a heart attack did not have a great chance of surviving. These days, because of better prevention strategies and treatments, most people will live on after a heart attack. Doctors will tell them that certain things need to change, such as exercising often, limiting their causes of stress, and eating nutritiously.

 And one more thing: taking medications for the heart is key. New research from Canada shows that more than 30% of heart attack survivors who have been prescribed heart medications stop taking the drugs within two or three years of the incident occurring. The result is no less than a greatly increased chance of dying.

 After a heart attack, these drugs keep the circulatory system regulated. The heart isn’t as strong as it was before, and drugs such as statins and beta-blockers ensure that it isn’t ever under any undue strain. The same study found that people who keep taking drugs routinely watch their risk of dying fall by 25%.

 The message is clear: the cost of stopping heart medications is high. You just won’t live as long. The researchers were successfully able to pinpoint the effects of drugs, disentangling them from the lifestyle issues (smoking, diet, and exercise) that also have a serious role in long-term heart attack survival.

 Published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study assessed the health records of nearly 31,500 people over the age of 66 who had survived a heart attack. All of them had been prescribed calcium channel blockers or beta-blockers between 1999 and 2003. Some people stop taking them at a random point, possibly because they feel better and falsely conclude that they don’t need the medications any longer. Or, perhaps because they have trouble with the drugs’ side effects or simply forget to take them after awhile.

 Surviving a heart attack should be treated as a major wake- up call. When your doctor prescribes medications, know that they are intended to help maintain your heart — they are not meant to be a suggested approach to care.