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Advertising May Influence Physicians' Choice Of Blood Pressure Drugs

The increase in the use of calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors for the treatment of hypertension -- a 10-year trend that is not supported by research studies or national treatment guidelines -- has been paralleled by a marked increase in advertising such drugs to physicians, says a research group from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Although their findings, published in the April 20 issue of Circulation, cannot prove that advertising has influenced how physicians choose which drugs to prescribe, the authors believe pharmaceutical marketing efforts may help explain the switch away from older, less expensive medications such as beta blockers and diuretics.

"We were surprised to see how striking the increase in advertising was during the years we studied," says Thomas J. Wang, MD, a senior medical resident at the MGH and the paper's first author. "The total number of ad pages for calcium channel blockers nearly quadrupled, making them the most heavily advertised medication of any type of during 1996, a year during which we found no ads at all for diuretics or beta blockers."

He adds, "There are a lot of competing influences on how physicians treat their patients, and these can include commercial as well as scientific influences. At this time, the available scientific data favor the use of the older medications -- beta blockers and diuretics -- for uncomplicated hypertension. That may change as more studies are completed with these newer medications, but until that time it is reasonable to consider the older medications as first-line therapy for most patients who need help controlling their blood pressure."

Hypertension or high blood pressure affects more than 50 million Americans and is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke. While many people can control their blood pressure through such lifestyle changes as reducing sodium intake and losing weight, some need to use medication to keep their blood pressure at saf
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Contact: Susan McGreevey
smcgreevey@partners.org
617-724-2764
Massachusetts General Hospital
20-Apr-1999


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