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Move Cautiously in Approving New Obesity Drugs, Pulmonary Hypertension Association Says

Silver Spring, MD (PRWEB) June 24, 2013

The American Medical Association’s decision* to regard obesity as a disease is making top headlines this week, but in fact this is not the first time American health care has taken this view, according to the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA). “In the 1990s, the results for too many who took prescription treatments for obesity were disastrous, resulting in a 6-fold increase in the incidence of life-threatening pulmonary hypertension,” said PHA president Rino Aldrighetti.

Two prescription weight loss drugs – fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine (also known as Redux, Pondimin and Fen-Phen) – were pulled from the market in 1997 after they were found to be associated with heart-valve problems. These drugs also resulted in increased incidence of pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the blood vessels between the heart and lungs. In cases of PH, these vessels narrow and stiffen, requiring the heart to work too hard to pump enough oxygenated blood to the body. Patients experience shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting, fatigue, and swelling of the legs and ankles. PH can make even daily activities such as walking difficult and limits thousands of patients’ ability to work, care for their homes and families and enjoy leisure activities.

Research published in 2002 showed that patients who took fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine developed PH after taking the drug for as little as 23 days. Those on the drug more than 3 months faced a 23-fold greater risk.

“This disease caused tremendous suffering and many premature deaths which might have been prevented if the effects of these drugs had been more carefully researched and disclosed. It’s essential that we avoid making this mistake again,” Aldrighetti said. “The last ‘war on obesity’ was driven by a combination of worthy concern and marketing emphasizing profit more than health. Many patients paid the price. That story is well told by journalist Alicia Mundy who coined the term ‘Obesity Inc.’ in her book about the legal battle over Fen-Phen, Dispensing with the Truth.

“Obesity is indeed a major public health concern,” Aldrighetti said, “but we need to remember our history and temper our well-founded concern about obesity with good judgment about the overall safety of new drugs to help Americans lose weight.”

PHA recommends that all patients speak with their physicians before considering using weight loss supplements and medications. PHA also recommends that patients with PH consult with their PH specialists about the possibility of using these products.

The mission of the Pulmonary Hypertension Association is to find ways to prevent and cure pulmonary hypertension, and to provide hope for the pulmonary hypertension community through support, education, research, advocacy and awareness. To learn more about pulmonary hypertension and its effects, visit

* 6/18/2013 American Medical Association

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