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Experts say a pill containing several medications can make it easier for people to take care of their heart health. blackCAT/Getty Images
  • Researchers report that a polypill containing aspirin, a statin, and blood pressure medications can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular death, heart attack, and stroke.
  • Experts say the pill could be a game changer in the fight to lower heart disease in the United States.
  • They add that the study may also show that aspirin can be effective in heart health if used with other medications.

A single pill containing four different medications may reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by half.

That’s according to a study published this week in which researchers reported that a medication called a polypill — containing aspirin, a statin, and two kinds of blood pressure medications — reduced the risk of death by cardiovascular causes by 49 percent.

They added the drug cocktail also lowered the risk of heart attacks by 53 percent and stroke by 51 percent.

“This is one of the most important discoveries in three decades when it comes to cardiovascular disease — the number-one killer globally,” said Salim Yusuf, senior author of the study and a professor of medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, in a press release.

“Wide use of this simple therapy can prevent between 5 and 10 million individuals from experiencing a stroke, heart attack, or dying from these conditions yearly,” he added.

In the United States, a person dies from cardiovascular disease every 36 seconds. That amounts to 655,000 deaths from heart disease every year.

In addition, every 40 seconds a person in the United States has a heart attack. That’s 805,000 heart attacks annually.

Cardiology experts say the study’s findings could have a significant impact on the cardiovascular health of people around the world.

“It’s definitely a potential game changer. If we apply that globally, that would translate into a huge number of individuals who would be preventing heart disease from happening,” Dr. Parveen K. Garg, a cardiologist at Keck Medicine at the University of Southern California, told Healthline.

“The concept of the polypill was ‘let’s make it easier for the patients. They just have to take one pill,” he explained. The polypill is really an effective alternative in many parts of the country where healthcare access is limited and patients have trouble accessing doctors or being able to take medications.”

The new study was a meta-analysis of 18,000 people across 26 countries on every inhabited continent.

Participants were given one of three medication combinations. One was a polypill containing a combination of two blood pressure-lowering medications plus a statin. The second was a polypill containing a combination of two blood pressure-lowering medications, a statin and aspirin. The third was a placebo used on a control group.

In a five-year follow-up, researchers found that cardiovascular events occurred in 276 people in the groups who had a polypill, compared with 445 people in the placebo group.

The greatest reduction in risk was seen in the group that took a polypill that contained aspirin. They experienced nearly a 50 percent reduction in risk in all kinds of cardiovascular events.

“Having a 40 or 50 percent reduction in risk with the patients who had the polypill with the aspirin is remarkable,” Dr. Abha Khandelwal, the clinic chief of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University in California, told Healthline.

“It is in contrast to several of our prior primary prevention trials with regards to the benefits of aspirin. If you review the literature, every couple of decades it goes back and forth with the risk of bleeding,” she said.

The use of aspirin as a medication for the prevention of cardiovascular disease has been a controversial topic in recent times.

However, experts say the study raises new questions about how the drug might be used in preventing cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.

“The literature in the last few years has just published negative trial after negative trial when we talk about the use of aspirin for primary cardiovascular disease prevention,” Garg said.

“(The study) brings up a lot of really interesting questions,” he added. “Maybe aspirin is helpful but maybe we’re not looking at it in the right way. The main difference between this study and other studies in the past is that they only gave the patient aspirin. Here you’re not only giving aspirin, you’re reducing their blood pressure, you’re reducing their cholesterol. Maybe with the combination of these medications… aspirin can potentially be more beneficial and the risk of a major bleed can go down.”

Dr. Fausto Pinto, the president of the World Heart Federation, said in a statement the findings of the new study are extraordinary and present an important opportunity for tackling heart disease around the world.

Khandelwal agrees and hopes polypills will help people take their medications correctly.

“Globally, I do think this is a very promising finding,” she said. “This can be very impactful, specifically for cardiovascular patients because on average, especially when we look at secondary prevention, people that have established cardiovascular disease, many of them are required to take anywhere from four to five medications on a daily basis. A polypill is very appealing because it would help with adherence.”