Heart attack survivors given multiple pills instead of one are less likely to follow treatment regimes - putting themselves at risk of a repeat attack, a new study suggests.
Patients given just one pill instead of three are more likely to take their medication, researchers found.
The study, published at the European Society of Cardiology conference in Barcelona, Spain, examined 695 heart attack patients for nine months.
They were either given doses of three separate cardiovascular drugs or one polypill combining all three.
Experts then assessed patients’ self-reported drug use and also counted left over medication in a pill count.
The questionnaire found that 68% of polypill patients took their drugs compared with 59% of those who were required to take three.
Meanwhile, the pill count showed that 92% of those taking one pill took their medication properly compared to 84% of those taking three pills.
Researcher Dr Valentin Fuster, physician-in-chief at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said: “Despite continuous advances in all areas of cardiovascular (CV) medicine, cardiovascular disease (CVD) has steadily increased in prevalence to become the number one cause of death worldwide.
“It is estimated that half of the overall reduction in CVD mortality observed over the past 20 years in Western countries could be attributed to appropriate use of CV medications for secondary prevention. But lack of adherence to treatment impedes adequate secondary prevention and contributes to the CVD pandemic.
“The idea of using a polypill for CVD prevention has gained increasing momentum because it could increase adherence and therefore contain the progression of CVD. A polypill could simplify healthcare delivery, improve cost-effectiveness, support the comprehensive prescription of evidence-based cardio-protective drugs and reach underdeveloped regions of the world.
“Our results suggest that the polypill has the potential to prevent more patients having a second heart attack. Compared with the three drugs given separately, the use of a polypill strategy significantly increases self-reported and directly measured medication adherence for secondary prevention following an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack).”
Meanwhile, an expert warned that there is “still some way to go” in preventing heart attack patients in the UK from having a repeat attack or another heart problem.
A separate study presented at the conference found that patients have an elevated risk of heart problems up to four years after a heart attack.
The study, conducted by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, examined 10,000 heart attack patients from around the UK between 2005 and 2010.
Two-thirds of these patients did not have another cardiovascular “event” a year after their initial attack. But of these patients 17.2% went on to suffer another incident - such as a heart attack, stroke or fatal cardiovascular disease - in the subsequent three years.
Lead author Harry Hemingway, professor of clinical epidemiology at University College London, said: “These important data tell doctors, patients and policy makers in the UK that while we’ve made great strides in reducing cardiovascular risk in the general population, we still have some way to go in preventing people who have already had a heart attack, going on to have further events or dying from cardiovascular disease.
“For doctors, these data tell us that all patients who have had a heart attack should be considered and treated as high risk of subsequent events, regardless of their previous history.
“For patients, this study highlights that your risk doesn’t disappear after the first year and attention on maintaining good heart health should continue indefinitely.”