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Docs Slow in Prescribing Better Heart Meds

Halting increases seen in prescriptions for effective treatments

THURSDAY, Jan. 2, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Good heart medications are out there, but too few physicians are offering the treatments to their patients, a new study says.

While prescriptions for such medications as warfarin for atrial fibrillation, aspirin for coronary artery disease, and ACE inhibitors for treating heart failure rose at fairly rapid rates in the 1990s, the study found that they still were below recommended levels in 2002.

Researchers from Yale and Stanford universities used data from the National Disease and Therapeutic Index (NDTI) for 1990 to 2002, and the National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys (NAMCS) for 1990 to 2000 to track trends said to represent national prescription habits for outpatient visits.

Data from both surveys showed that warfarin use in atrial fibrillation, for instance, increased on average from 12 percent in 1990, to 41 percent in 1995, to 58 percent in 2001. And beta-blocker use increased from 19 percent in 1990, to 20 percent in 1995, then to 40 percent in 2001.

Aspirin use for coronary artery disease increased from 18 percent in 1990 to 19 percent in 1995 and to just 38 percent in 2001, according to the NDTI survey, and the NAMCS survey showed even lower use rates.

And both surveys showed a general pattern of ACE inhibitor use for congestive heart failure increasing from 24 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 1996, but only rising to 39 percent by 2001.

While the new study represents the first time these large databases have been compared in this way, the researchers caution that the nature of the survey forms may lead to some inaccuracies in true rates of medication use. Over-the-counter aspirin use, in particular, may not be well tracked or reported by doctors, they say.

Still, the researchers stress that the findings indicate that more must be done to understand why physicians are not using the treatments more widely on heart patients.

The study appears in Jan. 1, 2003, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

More information

What's the best treatment for your heart condition? Visit the American Heart Association to find out.

SOURCE: The American College of Cardiology, press release, Dec. 31, 2002
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