Roughly one in three people who took an online survey would prefer to risk an earlier death rather than take a pill every day to prevent heart disease.
About one in five would be willing to pay at least $1,000 to avoid taking a pill every day for the rest of their lives.
The study "reinforces the idea that many people do not like taking pills, for whatever reason,” said Dr. Robert Hutchins of the University of California, San Francisco.
“Most physicians I know are very well aware of that, however, so it reiterates that we should be having discussions with patients about what their priorities are, and if they value the extended life they might get from taking a pill more than the effect on their quality of life for having to take that pill every day for the rest of their life,” Hutchins added, in email to Reuters Health.
Hutchins and his colleagues designed the survey to find out, hypothetically, how much time at the end of their lives people would be willing to give up just to avoid taking preventive medications every day.
They also asked how much people would pay to avoid having to take pills, and how much of a risk of death they’d accept to avoid taking drugs to prevent cardiovascular disease.
The pills would be free, and participants were told to ignore potential side effects.
A thousand people – mostly women and of an average age of 50 – completed the online survey, the researchers reported in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
In “real life,” four out of five were taking daily medication, with 54 percent taking at least three pills a day.
Overall, about 70 percent said they wouldn’t trade any weeks of their lives to avoid taking a pill every day.
But more than 8 percent were willing to trade up to two years of life to avoid taking pills every day. And roughly 21 percent would trade between one week and a year.
About 13 percent would accept a small risk of death to avoid taking a pill every day, and 9 percent would risk a 10 percent chance. About 62 percent weren’t willing to gamble any risk of immediate death.
On average, respondents said they’d pay $1,445 to avoid taking a pill each day for the rest of their lives - but 41 percent said they wouldn’t pay any amount.
Hutchins thinks the findings are useful to biotech researchers who are developing new ways to administer medicines.
“What if we can deliver medication like aspirin and statins without someone having to take a pill? It would almost certainly increase compliance while also improving that person's quality of life by removing the hassle of having to take a pill daily,” Hutchins said.
Dr. Mario Garcia, chief of the Division of Cardiology and co-director of the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care in New York was concerned that study participants might not accurately reflect the general population.
Still, Garcia was impressed that such a large number of people would be willing to take medication every day.
"There were almost 70 percent of people who would take a pill a day even to live one week longer, and that's remarkable," he said.
But on the other hand, Garcia said, people often don’t like to pay for medications.
"Clearly people will be compliant if they don't have any side effects," he said, "On the other hand, they probably wouldn’t be willing to pay out-of-pocket too much.