A low-cost, daily pill that combines four drugs has been tested for the first time in the United States to reduce the danger of brain or heart attacks.
Researchers wanted to know if such a pill would work for low-income Americans as it appears to have worked in other countries.
Experts say the study may increase interest in a method that has been considered successful in places were medical care is hard to get.
The pill, called a polypill, contains low doses of three blood pressure drugs and a cholesterol drug.
About 300 people, ages 45 to 75, who went to a community health center in Mobile, Alabama, took part in the study. Half were given the polypill to take. The others continued their usual care.
After a year, the polypill patients had lowered their blood pressure by more than the others and by amounts doctors found meaningful. They also lowered their LDL cholesterol level, which is linked to heart disease.
The study, however, did not last long enough to measure effects on the number of brain or heart attacks.
Success in earlier studies
A five-year study in Iran of a different group of drugs found that using a polypill reduced the danger of heart attack, brain attack or heart failure by a third. That study involved 6,800 people.
Polypills are not yet available in the United States. Many U.S. doctors have seen little need for them. They usually give medications individually. That is what Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University in Canada says. He leads another polypill study expected to be finished next year.
Yusuf said the problem is that doctors often fail to blend medications because they do not have time.
“That just doesn’t happen in practice,” Yusuf said.
The research for the Alabama study was supported by the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health. The findings were published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.
Most of the people in the study made less than $15,000 a year. Ninety-six percent were black. They all had at least borderline high blood pressure. None had extremely high LDL cholesterol as that requires more aggressive treatment.
Before starting the treatment, the patients all had increased blood pressure, but only about half of the patients were taking medication. Also, less than 20 percent of the patients were on cholesterol medicine.
Dr. Daniel Muñoz was the lead author of the study. He said, “The polypill gives vulnerable patients a running start” toward better health. Muñoz is a heart doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Vanderbilt made the pills for the study at a monthly cost of $26 for each patient. The drugs were provided to patients in the study at no cost.
Sixty-six-year-old Charles Roland of Prichard, Alabama, took the polypills. He said it was easier to remember to take one pill. His earlier treatment required a blood pressure pill in the morning and a cholesterol pill at night.
“My blood pressure went way down,” Roland said of his results during the study. “My cholesterol went down and maintained at a consistent level that’s not a threat to my health.”
I’m Mario Ritter Jr.
Words in This Story
dose –n. an amount of medicine or vitamin taken at one time
in practice –idiom what actually happens rather than what is supposed to happen
vulnerable –adj. more easily hurt or harmed
consistent –adj. behaving or acting in, more or less, the same way
maintain –v. to continue having or doing (something)