Over 11 Million Americans May Get the Wrong Heart Meds, Says New Study

A new study found that over 11 million Americans could have incorrect prescriptions for drugs like aspirin, statins and blood pressure medications.

Researchers used pooled cohort equations (PCEs) to calculate and see the risk of stroke or heart attack.

PCEs are what found all the guidelines in the U.S. for prevention of cardiovascular disease. They help doctors decide what drugs or combinations of drugs should prescribe, by estimating the risks of patients that could have a stroke or a heart attack.

A great majority of people uses a PCE calculator on the internet or as an app on smartphones. A patient’s risk of cardiovascular disease is automatically calculated in electronic health records, as they also contain PCE equations.

However, the main question is: are PCEs using updated data? Sanjay Basu is an assistant professor of primary care outcomes research at the School of Medicine (Stanford University) and a core faculty member at Stanford Health Policy. He is the lead author of the study, which he published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Basu said that:

“We found that there are probably at least two major ways to improve the 2013 equations. The first was well-known: that the data used to derive the equations could be updated.”

We’ve Been ‘Relying On Our Grandparent’s Data’

He explained that the main data sets used for equations are on people that are likely dead: they were 30-62 years old in 1948. The equations estimated 20% higher risks of stroke or heart attack. Basu explains why the data must be updated:

“A lot has changed in terms of diets, environments, and medical treatment since the 1940s. So, relying on our grandparents’ data to make our treatment choices is probably not the best idea.”

Researchers used new data for the PCEs to improve the accuracy of risk estimates. The authors said that they have also updated the statistical methods:

“We found that by revising the PCEs with new data and statistical methods, we could substantially improve the accuracy of cardiovascular disease risk estimates.”

The old data might also be too poor in African American samples, so the doctors might have estimated that their patient’s risk of heart attack or stroke would be too low, added Basu:

“So while many Americans were being recommended aggressive treatments that they may not have needed according to current guidelines, some Americans—particularly African Americans—may have been given false reassurance and probably need to start treatment given our findings.”

The researchers that were part of the study are from the University of Michigan, the University of Washington, and the University of Mississippi.

Doris’s passion for writing started to take shape in college where she was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. Even though she ended up working in IT for more than 7 years, she’s now back to what he always enjoyed doing. With a true passion for technology, Doris mostly covers tech-related topics.