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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Your Medications: Nuisance or Necessity?

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that in 2009, over three and a half billion prescriptions were filled in U.S. pharmacies, with an average of 12 prescriptions written for each one of us. That amounts to over $200 billion dollars spent, and since this astronomical figure excludes mail order prescriptions, the true number is probably even higher.  It’s not surprising, then, that many people are reluctant to add yet another pill to the small mountain of medications that greets them each morning.

As a physician, I can attest that problem number one is our catastrophically unhealthy lifestyle. For instance, it is estimated that at least 90 percent of Type 2 diabetes could be prevented by following a healthy diet, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight, yet diabetes rates continue to climb. Many diabetics require two or more medications to control their blood sugar levels, and since diabetes drastically raises the likelihood of heart disease, kidney disease, and other health problems, medications are often prescribed to manage these conditions as well. Other high-cost health conditions often connected to lifestyle choices include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, and arthritis. Of course, these problems can also happen to people with impeccably healthy habits, since genetics are often a factor.

It’s a nuisance to take medications, but in an Italian study of over 20,000 patients with high blood pressure, taking medications daily paid off in a big way. Dr. Giampiero Mazzaglia found a nearly 40 percent reduction in the risk of heart attacks and other serious heart problems in people who consistently took their medications, compared to those who did not.

In my practice as a cardiologist, I often care for people who have metal stents implanted into their coronary arteries to open up major blockages. It is critical that blood thinners are taken after these procedures, in order to keep the artery open and the blood flowing.  However, in a recent article in the American Journal of Cardiology, researcher Dr. Roberta Rossini reported that about one in ten people stop taking these medications shortly after the procedure, risking a threefold higher risk of death in the first year compared to those who took their medications daily.

Although medications for conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure can be expensive, the math works out when you figure in the lower costs of hospitalization for those who take their medications religiously, and the reduced likelihood of serious, life-changing conditions like congestive heart failure or stroke. If you suspect side-effects or are just not sure why a medication was prescribed for you, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask your doctor. Most importantly, do your part to ensure that you keep your body healthy and strong.

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Tags: Heart Procedures and Surgery

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.