Wondering about drugs for weight loss? Want to know if they are a good idea?

We asked the National Institute of Heath for information on current medications.

We know: About Weight Loss Medications

How do weight loss medications work?

Most weight loss medications suppress your appetite, either decreasing the appetite or increasing a feeling of fullness. These medications work by increasing serotonin or catecholamine--two brain chemicals that affect mood and appetite.

A new drug called Orlistat, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1999, works by reducing the body's ability to absorb dietary fat by about one third.

Who are weight loss medications like these intended for?

Weight loss drugs are intended for use by people whose obesity is putting them at increased medical risk, not for cosmetic weight loss.

How long should someone take these drugs?

Most weight-loss medications are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a few weeks or months.

Sibutramine and orlistat are the only weight-loss medications approved for longer-term use in significantly obese patients, although the safety and effectiveness of these medications has not been established for use beyond 1 year.

What are the names of some prescription weight loss medications?

Generic NameTrade Name(s)
DiethylpropionTenuate, Tenuate dospan
MazindolSanorex, Mazanor
PhendimetrazineBontril, Plegine, Prelu-2, X-Trozine
PhentermineAdipex-P, Fastin, Ionamin, Oby-trim

Note: The drugs fenfluramine (Pondimin) and dexfenfluramine (Redux) have been withdrawn from the market because of their association with heart disease.

Are there side effects from these medications?

According to the National Institutes of Health, most side effects of prescription medications for obesity are mild, however, serious complications have been reported.

Few studies lasting more than 2 years evaluating the safety or effectiveness of weight-loss medications have been done.

In particular, the safety and effectiveness of combining more than one weight-loss medication or combining weight-loss medications with other medications for the purpose of weight loss is unknown.

Remember, many drugs have been on the market and approved by the FDA before dangers were discovered. So take responsibility to closely monitor how your body is reacting to the drug, and demand your doctor do the same.

Does the government regulate how my doctor can prescribe these medications?

No. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates how a medication can be advertised or promoted by the manufacturer. It does not regulate a doctor's ability to prescribe the medication for different conditions, in different doses, or for different lengths of time.

So, it is possible for your doctor to prescribe medications for uses that have not been approved by the FDA. You should ask your doctor if the medication is being used in an approved manner, demand the doctor closely monitor how the drug is affecting you.

What dangers should I be aware of in taking one of these medications?

These drugs can have side effects and you could become dependent on them. Ask you doctor to review the potential side effects of any drug he or she prescribes, and ask you doctor to help you monitor the dependency issue.

Also, note that little information is known about the long-term side effects of these drugs and take responsibility to monitor your health if you choose to take them.

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