A significant portion of people in the U.S. rely on prescription medications. On average, 131 million Americans take four prescriptions each day. Nearly a fifth of persons between the ages of 40 and 79 use five or more drugs daily.
“Polypharmacy,” the practice of taking numerous prescriptions, can result in a variety of issues, such as drug interactions and exacerbated adverse effects.
Additionally, polypharmacy has been linked to greater risks of dementia and depression as well as death, according to systematic evaluations. (Study authors are careful to point out that it’s difficult to tease out whether it’s the multiple medications that increase the risk, or the underlying conditions.)
Medical researchers are working on a potential solution: Combining pills that contain multiple prescriptions into one tablet, known as a “polypill.” A novel tablet that combines three cardiovascular medications was put to the test in a pioneering research that was published this summer in the New England Journal of Medicine.
More than 1,000 patients received the polypill from researchers within six months of a heart attack. To a control group, they gave the identical drugs in three different pills. Each group was observed for three years.
Participants who received the polypill were more likely to keep taking their medications, less likely to experience another cardiovascular event and less likely to die of a heart attack. (The overall mortality rate among both groups was similar.)
An earlier systematic review yielded similar results: By using a polypill, patients were far more likely to continue taking their medications, which decreased their chance of developing heart attacks and passing away later on.
Interestingly, polypills are already used to treat other conditions, including HIV and the common cold (Think Nyquil!). They were first suggested to treat cardiovascular disease more than 20 years ago, when two doctors proposed giving a polypill to prevent heart disease to all adults 55 years of age and older. While that initial concept met strong resistance, the current use of polypills for people who already have heart disease is gaining traction.
The bottom line:
The evidence shows that a combination pill for cardiovascular disease is an important step forward in helping to reduce the number of medications that someone takes, ultimately making it easier for patients to stick with their drug regimens and improving outcomes overall.