HAMILTON, Ontario — A combination of statins, two blood pressure drugs, and regular aspirin may be the perfect mix to significantly cut the risk serious heart trouble. Researchers with McMaster University say the “polypill” – which combines headache, cholesterol, and blood pressure meds – could save millions of lives a year at risk from heart attacks and strokes.
Around 19 million people die from cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) every year, while twice as many suffer heart attacks or strokes. In the majority of cases (80%), people who experience heart problems do not have a history of such illnesses. That makes preventative strategies such as giving pills to people who do not yet suffer from heart problems all the more important, the researchers explain.
“This combination, either given separately or combined as a polypill, substantially reduces fatal and non-fatal CVD events,” says study lead author Dr. Phil Joseph in a university release.
“The largest effects are seen with treatments that include blood pressure lowering agents, a statin and aspirin together, which can reduce fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events by about half. The benefits are consistent at different blood pressure levels, cholesterol levels and with or without diabetes, but larger benefits may occur in older people.”
Preventing half of heart disease deaths?
The idea of a combination pill to reduce the risk of having a heart attack has been under development for 20 years. Early trials with polypills revealed that they perform better in comparison to single drugs, standard care, or placebos. However, evidence of their benefits has not been available until the past two years.
Researchers analyzed data from three big studies on a total of 18,000 people, who scientists followed for about five years. Participants came from 26 countries across all continents and had no history of any CVDs.
The researchers looked at different combinations of pills with or without aspirin, known as fixed-dose combination (FDC) therapies. They discovered that giving patients a combination of aspirin, statins, and at least two blood pressure medications in fixed doses slashed the risk of heart problems. In particular, adding aspirin to the mix reduced the risk of patients having a heart attack by 53 percent, stroke by 51 percent, and dying from CVDs by 49 percent.
“These results are huge, and its wide use can avoid between five and 10 million individuals experiencing a stroke, heart attack or dying from these conditions yearly,” adds senior author Professor Salim Yusuf.
“I could see a future with development of a stronger polypill where we could see a lowering of cardiovascular disease by 65 or 70 per cent around the world and leading to even greater benefits. Given that all the components of the polypill are generic and low cost, polypills can be provided to people at modest costs and are likely to be very cost effective.”
The study appears in The Lancet.
South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.