The controversial weight loss drug Fen Phen has been linked to a number of extremely serious side effects including primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH), heart valve leaks, and even death. These adverse medical conditions are directly related to Fen Phen use, and have led to scores of nationwide legal claims to compensate victims for their injuries. Since Fen Phen was recalled by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1997, drugmaker Wyeth has paid out over $20 billion in Fen Phen lawsuits.
Fen Phen Lawsuit Update 9/5/12: A federal judge has shot down an attempt by Pfizer to throw out new Fen Phen lawsuits, which continue to be filed on behalf of individuals who allegedly developed pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) after taking the drug. In most defective drug cases, state-based statutes of limitations limit the amount of time lawsuits can be brought against manufacturers of dangerous medications. However, under a latency argument which states that symptoms of PAH may not appear for years or even decades after the user takes Fen Phen, some plaintiffs have been allowed to argue that they did not discover they were injured until just recently.
Fen Phen Overview
For better or worse, American society places a high priority on outward appearances. At the same time, our fast-paced culture sometimes requires that we sacrifice a healthy lifestyle and diet to pay the bills and make ends meet. This is one of the main reasons why the dietary supplement industry has exploded in our country over the past 30 years. Unfortunately, many of these so-called ‘miracle drugs’ have been found to cause serious, potentially life-threatening side effects in otherwise unsuspecting consumers.
Fen Phen is perhaps the quintessential example of this phenomenon. The drug was designed to aid in weight loss by altering serotonin levels in the brain, thereby curbing hunger pangs and decreasing food cravings. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter chemical that regulates mood, appetite, and sensory perception. Low levels of serotonin often result in feelings of depression and other serious psychological conditions, while increased levels of serotonin cause an exhilarating sense of satisfaction and euphoria.
Fen Phen became wildly successful soon after its release, as the drug appeared to be the miracle cure for obesity. Unfortunately, just as quickly as it became a success, a variety of potentially life-threatening side effects began to be reported in Fen Phen users. Even now, 15 years after the drug was pulled off the market, former Fen Phen users are still suffering from injuries caused by the so-called miracle diet drug.
Fen Phen Products
Over the years, Fen Phen products have included:
- Pondimin (generic: fenfluramine) – Manufactured and marketed by American Home Products, Pondimin was the first component of Fen Phen to be released for sale on the U.S. market.
- Redux (generic: dexfenfluramine) – Offering essentially the same effect as Pondimin, Redux’s active ingredient is virtually indistinguishable from fenfluramine.
- Phentermine – Marketed under a number of different brand names, phentermine is the substance that produced the most immediate visible effects in users. Similar to amphetamines, phentermine decreases food cravings by acting on centers in the brain that control appetite.
- Fen Phen (fenfluramine & phentermine) – Combination drug that became an instant success because the phentermine component was able to cancel out the sleepy side effects associated with Pondimin and Redux. However, this drug cocktail turned out to be extremely hazardous, and thousands of former Fen Phen users have reported adverse health conditions.
Fen Phen Side Effects
Complications associated with Fen Phen products have been found to include:
- primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH), which is also commonly known as primary arterial hypertension (PAH)
- serious heart murmurs
- heart valve leaks
- thickening of the heart valves
- heart valve regurgitation
- plaque buildup on the heart valves
Unfortunately, numerous case studies have found that taking Fen Phen increases the risk of developing these catastrophic health conditions by 30% or more. Even more disheartening is the fact that signs and symptoms of these side effects may take 10 years or longer to be detected by a physician.
Primary Pulmonary Hypertension (PPH)
PPH is a rare but extremely serious disease that occurs when the blood pressure in the pulmonary artery (the main blood vessel connecting the right heart ventricle to the lungs) skyrockets for no apparent reason. When this occurs, the heart has to strain itself to perform its normal, everyday duties. If PPH is left untreated, the heart muscles weaken and may eventually fail.
Signs and symptoms of Fen Phen-induced primary pulmonary hypertension may include (but are not limited to):
- difficulty breathing
- shortness of breath
- color change in hands
- swelling of the hands and feet
- an increase in the pulmonic second heart sound
- enlargement of the main pulmonary artery
Fen Phen Heart Valve Problems
In addition to causing PPH, Fen Phen has also been associated with the following adverse heart conditions:
- Mitral Valve Stenosis – Occurs when the heart’s mitral valve becomes abnormally narrowed, resulting in restricted blood flow from the left atrium to the left ventricle.
- Aortic Stenosis – A condition commonly found in former Fen Phen users, aortic stenosis causes increased ventricular volume and decreased efficiency of the heart due to the backflow (regurgitation) of blood.
- Tricuspid Stenosis – Typically found accompanying mitral stenosis, tricuspid stenosis affects the flow of blood through the jugular veins.
Fen Phen Recall
In September 1997, Fen Phen was finally recalled by the FDA. However, by that time, millions of Americans had taken the drug over a period of months or even years. Between 1995 and 1997 alone, it was estimated that nearly 15 million prescriptions were written for Fen Phen products.
Soon after Fen Phen was recalled, lawsuits began being filed in courts around the country. According to allegations, American Home Products knew about the potential health risks associated with Fen Phen, but failed to warn doctors and patients about these dangers. Only after the FDA initiated a formal investigation did Fen Phen get pulled off the market.