Polypill: Future Wonder Drug for the Heart?

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Chances are you or someone you love takes many medicines to treat a variety of heart problems. But those medicines are being combined into what many consider to be a wonder drug.

The so-called "polypill" passed preliminary tests with flying colors.

The polypill could breathe new life into a nation dying of heart disease. It is estimated to lower that risk by up to 62 percent, and lower stroke risk by 48 percent, dramatically improving the lives of one in five Americans.

"This pill has the potential to be a blockbuster. It's estimated that 60 or even 70 million Americans would qualify for treatment for the full length," Dr. James Stein, Univ. of Wisconsin School of Medicine said.

The polypill is a combination of five heart medicines: three that lower blood pressure, one cholesterol lowering drug and aspirin which reduces blood clots.

It is convenient for people like Joanne Steno, who currently takes all five medicines separately.

"I would be ecstatic. I really would. It would be great not to have to say, ''Did I remember to take this? Did I remember to take that'?" Steno said.

When patients present one heart disease risk factor, such as high blood pressure, the polypill can address all risk factors without side effects.

"The key here is that we're using low doses of proven, safe medications," Stein said.

And it's cheap too at less than $1 a day.

Doctors say the polypill does such a good job guarding against heart disease, they're worried people will give up their heart-healthy lifestyles and just pop the pill instead.

But people should avoid relying on heart medicine.

"We need to do appropriate diet and exercise in order to keep the blood vessels healthy and to not put too much burden on the heart from excess weight on the heart," Christopher Cannon, Brigham & Women's Hospital said.

The polypill won't be sold in the U.S. until it gains approval from the Food and Drug Administration which could take years.

*Originally aired March 31, 2009

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