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You can't buy good health but you can buy good health information. Check out these newly released Special Health Reports from Harvard Medical School:

A single pill for heart disease prevention? from the Harvard Women's Health Watch

It isn't unusual for people with heart disease to take several pills a day—aspirin, a statin to lower cholesterol, a couple to control blood pressure, and maybe a beta blocker to slow the heart rate. Keeping track of all these drugs is a feat of memory and organization. But what if you could accomplish all this with a single pill? The December 2012 Harvard Women's Health Watch looks at the "polypill," a combination pill that's been in development for several years, and that could be available in the not-too-distant future.

Taking several medications in one pill could improve the percentage of people who take their medicines as prescribed. Right now that percentage is "unbelievably bad," says Dr. Christopher Cannon, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "The concept is that simplicity will make it easier to take the medicines," he says.

Polypill studies so far have been very promising. For example, The Indian Polycap Study (TIPS) found that combining five drugs—three blood pressure medicines, a statin, and aspirin—in one pill significantly reduced blood pressure and harmful LDL cholesterol.

Yet a few questions still need to be answered before the polypill can be ready for general use:

  • Will the blood pressure and cholesterol reductions seen in studies translate into less heart disease?
  • Will these drugs work as well together as they do individually?
  • Should the individual medicines be given in lower-than-normal or full-strength doses?

Another question is how to deal with side effects. "If you develop a side effect from one of the five medications, the only thing you can do is stop all five at once," Dr. Cannon says.

Read the full-length article: "Treating many conditions—with just one pill"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch

  • Avoiding a pain in the neck
  • Ask the doctor: What are breast calcifications?
  • Ask the doctor: Can migraines lead to memory loss?
  • Can aspirin help fight cancer?
  • Stopping repeated urinary tract infections
  • Treating many conditions with just one pill
  • Making smart screening decisions: Part 4: Commercial screening tests
  • In the journals: No need for routine ovarian cancer screening
  • In the journals: Pain-relieving creams ease arthritis aches
  • In the journals: Fall prevention: What works?
  • In the journals: No evidence black cohosh helps with hot flashes

More Harvard Health News »


About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.