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noun [countable]

a pill which contains aspirin, folic acid, and drugs that lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and can be given to people in order to prevent heart disease

'The "polypill" could advance disease prevention in the western world more than any other single medical invention …'

The Guardian 26th June 2003

'A "polypill" a day may keep death away.'

The Post and Courie 26th June 2003

With heart disease being one of the biggest killers in the 21st century, medical science continues to search for ways of counteracting the negative implications of modern dietary habits and lifestyle. In June 2003, researchers writing in the British Medical Journal claimed that a new combined drug, coined the polypill, could cut heart attacks and strokes by more than 80%.

researchers claim that the polypill could be taken without the need for a medical examination or any individual measurement of
risk factors

The proposed polypill has six active components: aspirin, folic acid, a cholesterol-lowering drug, and three drugs to reduce blood pressure. Data from 750 trials, involving in the region of 400,000 patients, confirmed potential benefits of the individual drugs, researchers estimating that one in three people could directly benefit and gain an extra 11 or 12 years of life free from heart attacks or strokes. Further trials are planned to see if the combination of drugs into one polypill is safe and effective, though these trials could take several years.

Although aimed at people with a history of cardiovascular problems and those aged over 55, researchers claim that the polypill could be taken without the need for a medical examination or any individual measurement of risk factors. This claim proves somewhat controversial however, amidst speculation not merely about cost, but also about the ethical appropriateness of giving drugs to people who are essentially healthy.

Background – polypill

The polypill was developed by Professor Nicholas Wald, of the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine in London, and Malcolm Law of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Wald and Law set out to find a combination of drugs and vitamins which could help prevent cardiovascular disease with minimal side effects, suggesting that their proposed polypill could be taken once a day by everybody over the age of 55.

The coining polypill exploits the prefix poly- meaning 'more than one', from the Greek polus ('much') or polloi ('many'). Poly- is, of course, a very productive prefix in English, as exemplified in linguistics by words such as polysemous (with more than one meaning) or polysyllabic (with more than one syllable).

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 8th November 2004.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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