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Does Blood Pressure Medicine Always Work?

Posted Mar 09 2011 12:00am

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I was a very naughty patient and, after taking Atacand for 135/75 blood pressure (benign essential hypertension was the description) for a number of years on my doctor’s prescription, decided to do a little experiment. That is, I cut back on it gradually, monitoring my BP every day. No change.

I eventually got to no Atacand at all and have been there for the past four years, during which time the BP has remained the same as when taking the drug. Now, whether the BP is going to kill me is perhaps a separate question (I seem to be in excellent health at 65) but the Atacand doesn’t appear to have made much difference at all except for the $600/year it cost me, even after insurance had picked up on some of the expense.

I began to grasp how helpful self-experimentation could be when I discovered that tetracycline, an antibiotic that my dermatologist had prescribed, did not reduce my acne. When I told my dermatologist about the research that revealed this, he said, “Why did you do that?”

Had this person’s doctor told him that Atacand might not work? Clearly not. Did the doctor even know that Atacand might not work? Apparently not, since there was no doctor-guided attempt to find out. Perhaps the doctor who prescribed Atacand would defend himself by saying, lamely, that all he knew is what the drug company told him. I wonder what the drug company knew.

How much money could be saved by stopping the prescription of drugs that turn out not to work? Should all drugs come with a label that says the fraction of patients for whom this drug doesn’t work? It is a warning that is truly needed.

Thanks to Rajiv Mehta.

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