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One pill for heart-attack prevention?

March 30, 2009 |  9:59 am

StatinsMedications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as aspirin, can reduce the risk of having a heart attack. But a lot of people have trouble adhering to a schedule that requires taking several drugs each day. A new study shows the solution may be a single "polypill" that contains multiple drugs in one capsule.

Doctors have debated the merits of a polypill for several years, but have worried that one pill might not be as effective as taking medications separately. The study presented today, at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, compared a polypill to other drug regimens. The study was made up of 2,053 people in India who were ages 45 to 80. The participants did not have heart disease  but had at least one risk factor for the disease. They were assigned to take the polypill or one of eight other drug regimens, such as aspirin alone, a cholesterol-lowering drug alone, a drug to lower blood pressure alone, or some combination of aspirin, cholesterol medication and several types of blood-pressure-lowering medication. The polypill contained low doses of three blood-pressure-lowering drugs: hydrocholorothiazide, a beta-blocker and ramipril; 20 milligrams of simvastatin for cholesterol and 100 mg. of aspirin.

The researcher found that the polypill performed just as well as the blood-pressure-lowering drugs. The polypill also lowered cholesterol, but not as much as taking simvastatin alone. Overall, the study concluded that a polypill could possibly reduce heart attacks by 50% in average, middle-age people.

The polypill should undergo a larger, phase-three clinical trial, Dr. Christopher P. Cannon, a Harvard cardiologist who was not involved in the study, said in a news release. Researchers may also need to devise polypills of different strengths, he noted.

The study, he said, "raises hope that, in conjunction with other global efforts on improving diet and exercise, the polypill could one day substantially reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in the world."

The study is also published online today in the Lancet.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Cholesterol medications. Credit: Stephen Sedam / Los Angeles Times

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