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Treatment of Obesity - Medications

Overweight and obesity are chronic conditions that require multiple treatment modalities (dietary and lifestyle modifications) to effectively improve the conditions. Sometimes, medications are used to help decrease caloric intake.

In the United States, the only medication available for long-term (greater than one year) is orlistat. It is available in two forms - prescription strength (brand name Xenical®) and in a non-prescription strength (brand name Alli®). These medications are discussed in further detail in the next section.

Other prescription medications are also sometimes recommended by physicians. At this time, the most common is phentermine. It was originally approved in the 1950s for short term-use (< 12 weeks) to assist with weight loss. Phentermine is a stimulant that helps decrease caloric consumption. Weight loss during treatment averages about 3 kg (6.5 lbs) more weight loss than placebo ("sugar pill"). Side effects can be significant: elevated blood pressure, chest pain, irregular heart beats, heart attacks (which can be fatal), strokes, headaches, insomnia, and others. It should only be used under a physician's supervision and as directed by him or her.

There are other, unapproved medications that are sometimes used by physicians to assist with weight loss. However, at the current time, there is an absolute paucity of medications and there are no long-term, approved medications other than orlistat.

Updated: 27 December 2011

Copyright © 1996 -2011 Michael D. Myers, M.D., Inc.
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Disclaimer Statement

The above information is for general purposes only and should not be construed as definitive or binding medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Because each person is medically different, individuals should consult their own personal physicians for specific information and/or treatment recommendations.