(CNN)In what some researchers are calling a "transformational approach to preventing heart disease," an inexpensive polypill, along with an aspirin, cut heart attacks and strokes by up to 40%, according new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
A 'transformational' and inexpensive polypill could cut heart attacks and strokes up to 40%, study finds
The research was also presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions on Friday.
A polypill is a medicine that combi nes three different blood pressure medications (atenolol, ramipril, and the "water pill" hydrochlorothiazide) and a cholesterol-lowering statin medication simvastatin. These are all generic drugs. Polypills can be taken alone or with an aspirin.
Polypills are widely used in Europe, but not marketed or used much in the US. The particular pill in this study was made in India.
The study had more than 5,700 volunteers from all over the world who researchers followed for nearly five years.
The male volunteers were 50 or older and women were 55 or older. All of the volunteers were considered to have a moderate risk for heart problems due to underlying conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.
The group was divided into a people who took a low-dose aspirin, a polypill, the polypill plus an aspirin, or a placebo.
The polypill with the aspirin reduced heart problems and deaths by 31% and came with minimal side effects. Side effects included dizziness or low blood pressure. Those who continued to take the pill without interruption saw a 40% reduced risk of heart problems.
Only about 4% in the group that took the polypill and aspirin had a heart problem like a stroke or heart attack or another heart problem tracked by this study or died, compared to the nearly 6% who did in the placebo group.
This study's results are similar to earlier research. A study in 2003 found that the polypill could prevent 88% of heart attacks and 80% of strokes.
Heart disease is the number one killer in the US and accounts for almost one fourth of all registered deaths.
"We could save millions of people from experiencing serious heart disease or stroke each year with effective use of the polypill and aspirin," said Salim Yusuf, co-principal investigator for the study and a professor of medicine at McMaster University in Canada in a news release.