ALERT - All Americans Who Took Fen-Phen Urged to Get Checkups
DURHAM, N.C. (Reuters) - A researcher warned Sunday that dieters who took fen-phen should get regular heart checkups while studies are made of the long-term effects of the weight-loss drug on people who developed cardiac disease.
Fenfluramine -- combined with phentermine to form the diet drug fen-phen -- and its sister drug dexfenfluramine were taken off the market last year because 12 percent to 25 percent of people who took them wound up with damaged heart valves.
"It appears that the longer people took these drugs the greater was the likelihood of developing valvular heart disease," researcher Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic said.
"In severe cases, the disease may continue to progress. We don't have any good data other than just our impression from people we are seeing," he said.
Hensrud told an American Medical Association conference at Duke University that a new drug on the market, sibutramine, was proving effective in helping patients lose weight without the threat of heart disease.
"Some people will lose more, some people won't respond, but 15 pounds in six months is about what people can expect," said Hensrud, an expert in preventive medicine and nutrition at the Mayo Clinic, located in Rochester, Minnesota.
Both fen-phen and sibutramine diminish appetite and leave dieters feeling satisfied through their effect on neurotransmitters in the brain. While fen-phen increases the release of serotonin, sibutramine blocks what is called the re-uptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine.
Hensrud warned that sibutramine, like any diet drug, was not a magic potion.
"People need to have realistic expectations about the result of this drug. The people who are grossly overweight are not going to get to a weight range they will like," he said.
"But even small amounts of weight loss can improve the medical complications of obesity," he added.