What is the polypill? Can it prevent or treat heart disease?
Answers from Rekha Mankad, M.D.
The term "polypill" describes a pill that contains a combination of several medications commonly used to treat heart disease and high blood pressure. Doctors aren't sure what exact combination of medications should be included in a polypill. It's thought that low doses of each of these medications could be effective:
- Cholesterol-lowering medications (statins)
- Medications to make your heart beat with less force (beta blockers)
- Medications to help keep your blood vessels open (ACE inhibitors)
The polypill isn't currently available for sale in the United States. The drug would most likely be used as a treatment option for people who have already had a heart attack or stroke. The polypill probably won't be used as a preventive measure for people who haven't had a heart attack or stroke, because the risks associated with some of the medications included in the polypill, such as aspirin, may outweigh the potential benefits of such a treatment.
Studies done on the polypill suggest that the combined medication helps people better adhere to their treatment, probably because it's easier to remember to take one medication than multiple ones. And, research has shown that the polypill is effective in improving blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
But the polypill may cause more side effects than the medications do when they are taken individually. One drawback to the polypill is that medication dosages can't be adjusted as easily as they can be for individual medications. Some of the common side effects of the polypill include cough, muscle aches and stomach irritation.
Mar. 13, 2015
- De Cates, AN, et al. Fixed-dose combination therapy for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD009868.pub2/abstract. Accessed Feb. 8, 2015.
- Hennekens CH, et al. Overview of primary prevention of coronary heart disease and stroke. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 7, 2015.
- Traynor K. FDA, advisers mull "polypill" for patients with cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. 2014;71:1918.
- Castellano JM, et al. A polypill strategy to improve adherence results from the FOCUS project. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2014;64:2071.