A cheap daily pill that combines four drugs was effective in cutting the risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart failure in a large study.
The pills contained two blood pressure drugs, a cholesterol medicine and aspirin. Many people can't afford or don't stick with taking so many medicines separately, so doctors think a polypill might help.
The study involved about 6,800 people in Iran, aged 50-75, some with previous heart problems and others without them.
All got advice on healthy lifestyles and half were also given polypills. After five years, 6 per cent of those in the pill group had suffered a heart attack, stroke or heart failure versus 9 per cent of the others.
That worked out to a 22 per cent lower risk after researchers took into account other heart drugs that participants were taking.
The benefit mostly seemed to come from lowering cholesterol; blood pressure didn't significantly change. Side effects were similar in both groups. Some who developed a cough while on the polypill were switched to another version that substituted one of the four drugs. All of the drugs are cheap generic medicines now.
Results were published Thursday in the British journal Lancet. The study was paid for by Tehran University of Medical Sciences, a foundation and Alborz Darou, the company that makes the polypills.
One study leader, Dr. Tom Marshall of Britain's University of Birmingham, said the results show the polypill is a "viable strategy" to prevent heart disease in developing countries.
"It's much simpler to give people one medication that manages a couple of risk factors at the same time," he said.
Australian Associated Press