Do You Really Need a Diet Pill?

Weigh the benefits-and risks-before taking drugs

For many people taking prescription weight loss drugs, the only benefit is fitting into a smaller size. When you consider the potentially life-threatening side effects, it's not worth the risk.

Yet 25% of Americans (more than 1 million adults) using these pills are not overweight, according to a recent survey (Annals of Internal Medicine, Feb 20, 2001). Some doctors are inappropriately prescribing weight loss drugs for individuals who do not need them. Why? Because patients are insisting. The trade-off could be serious side effects such as dizziness, nutrient deficiency, addiction, rapid pulse, high blood pressure (which increases your risk of a stroke), and primary pulmonary hypertension, a rare but potentially fatal disorder that affects the blood vessels in the lungs and causes shortness of breath, chest pain, and swelling in the legs.

"Looks shouldn't come into the picture," says study author Laura Kettel Khan, PhD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "These drugs are meant for clinically obese people or those with health risks such as high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and gallstones associated with being overweight." For them, the benefits-reducing pain, alleviating sleep problems or depression, and especially lowering their risk of the diseases mentioned above-far outweigh the potential side effects. *

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