A health expert urged all sexually active women in Northern Ireland to take folic acid supplements to reduce the occurrence of serious birth defects. StevePB/Pixabay

Proponents of the “polypill” received a boost last week after the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved a version formulated to treat hypertension, manufactured by Symplmed Pharmaceuticals. A polypill is a blend of medicines contained within a single drug that is taken daily to reduce a patient’s risk of heart disease.

However, some patients aren’t convinced that taking a daily pill for the rest of their lives is the right choice. In fact, about 21 percent of people would risk shortening their life by a week to a year over the task of swallowing a daily pill meant to prevent heart disease, according to new research published in a journal of the American Heart Association. Another eight percent said that they would be willing to sacrifice up to two years of life to free themselves of a daily pill-taking regimen. One of the authors told Reuters that their findings should prompt physicians to have a frank conversation with patients about their priorities before doling out drugs.

The results also hold implications for pharmaceutical companies interested in developing polypills or selling the drugs contained within them – typically a statin, aspirin and blood pressure medication. Statins such as Lipitor or Zocor are already taken daily by many to lower cholesterol and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends an aspirin a day to most older men and women to lower their risk of heart attack and stroke.

“What if we can deliver medication like aspirin and statins without someone having to take a pill? It would almost certainly increase compliance while also improving that person's quality of life by removing the hassle of having to take a pill daily,” Robert Hutchins, a coauthor and physician of the University of California, San Francisco told Reuters. About half of Americans have taken a perscription medicine of some type in the past 30 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, the vast majority of the study's participants were willing to ingest a daily pill for the promise of a longer life. In fact, 70 percent said that they would rather swallow a pill than risk shaving off even a week from their lives.

For the study, Hutchins and researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sent Internet surveys to 1,000 participants to determine how much time they would be willing to trade at the end of their lives to avoid taking a daily medication. This study design is inherently limited because researchers ask participants to make a decision based on a theoretical trade-off. The scenario could play out quite differently if people were presented with the same options in reality. The researchers also asked participants to rule out cost considerations or the risk of side effects.