Single Pill for Heart Health

Having risk factors for heart disease, such as age, usually means a pharmacopeia: aspirin or another blood thinner to prevent clotting, something for cholesterol levels, something for hypertension, a beta blocker. While this combination has been shown to substantially lower the risk of future heart attacks and other such events, the number of pills involved makes the therapy inconvenient, costly, and overwhelming. Noncompliance is also a common problem; studies show that each additional medication prescribed further lowers the adherence rate. Now researchers are looking at ways to combine these into a single medication known as a polypill. Scientists in the United Kingdom and India have been working on this polypill for some time and say it might soon be available for patients.

It’s not simply a matter of putting all the necessary drugs into a single capsule. Amounts and times vary and getting the right combination of drugs is important for the treatment to be more efficacious than harmful. Under current guidelines, in fact, aspirin therapy is not always recommended for patients with a poor cardiovascular history because it can cause harm. Various polypill combinations have been used, with or without aspirin, as well as with changes to the number of statin drugs, with or without folic acid, and other alterations, though the core idea is constant. This combined medication can lower the cost and reduce the inconvenience of properly treating and preventing heart disease, which researchers have found means greater compliance and so greater effectiveness.

In fact, age being the single biggest predictor of heart disease in the general population, a study was conducted on people over 50 without regard to other risk factors and found that a polypill combining three blood pressure lowering medicines and a statin for lowering cholesterol gave patients an average of 11 healthy years. The trial showed a two-thirds reduction in heart attacks, the leading cause of death throughout the world.

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