Fen-Phen Health Risks

Fen-phen Health Risks

What is fen-phen?
Fen-phen is the popular name for a combination of two weight loss drugs that were prescribed by doctors to control hunger. The “fen” drug was fenfluramine or dexfenfluramine, which went by the brand names Pondimin and Redux. The “phen” drug was phentermine. Like many other weight loss products, these drugs affected seratonin levels in the brain, acting as a mild stimulant and making a person feel full instead of hungry. The demand for fen-phen was so great that doctors were pressured by the public and pharmaceutical companies into prescribing these drugs without much thought for the dangers.

Why is the fen-phen combination of drugs dangerous?
Two rare cardiopulmonary conditions have been linked to the use of fen-phen. Studies in the U.S. and abroad discovered heart valve damage in a relatively high percentage of long-term fen-phen users, compared to those who took the drugs only for very brief periods or not at all. Heart valve disease occurs when the valves become malformed, making them much less efficient in pumping blood. The other disorder is PPH, or primary pulmonary hypertension. This occurs when the blood vessels in the lungs become constricted, raising blood pressure in the pulmonary artery. Both of these conditions are difficult to treat and sometimes even difficult to diagnose. They can lead to heart failure and death.

What has been done about these dangers?
In 1997 the FDA called for label changes warning consumers of potential heart problems from long-term use. Soon after, however, the FDA asked that the makers of the “fen” drugs Pondimin (fenfluramine) and Redux (dexfenfluramine) withdraw them from the market. The “phen” component of the fen-phen weight loss plans remains available.

Why hasn’t the “phen” part of fen-phen been withdrawn, too?
The FDA approved Pondimin (fenfluramine) and Redux (dexfenfluramine) separately from phentermine. They found no cases of heart valve damage associated with taking phentermine alone. On the other hand, the disease has been linked to use of the fenfluramine drugs by themselves. Phentermine is a stimulant that slightly raises the metabolism, like many other chemicals that remain FDA-approved for weight control purposes. Nevertheless, any stimulant, no matter how safe, should be used in moderation.

What are the symptoms of fen-phen-related diseases?
Heart valve disease can present a heart murmur that wasn’t there before, as well as symptoms of fatigue because of damaged, inefficient valves. The heart has to work harder, and the malformed valves can further deteriorate. Symptoms of Primary Pulmonary Hypertension (PPH) include the following:

  • excessive fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • fainting
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • blue lips
  • swollen ankles
 

It was years ago that I took fen-phen. Should I still be concerned?
The “fen” drugs (Pondimin and Redux) were taken off the market in 1997, but the damage that was done years ago might still be affecting you. Even if you haven’t noticed any symptoms, remember that heart valve disease and PPH are often difficult to detect until it’s too late. Our lawyers have set up medical examinations for people who used fen-phen. Submit an online consultation form to see if you qualify for this important medical examination, and let us help you get the compensation you deserve.