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Are Weight-Loss Pills Healthy?

Lynne Shuster, M.D., director of the Office of Women's Health at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, weighs in on taking a doctor-prescribed weight-loss pill.

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Q: A few months ago my friend started taking a new weight-loss pill that her doctor prescribed, and she's already dropped 15 pounds. Could it work for me, too?

A: I suspect you're referring to Qsymia, a prescription weight-loss medication that recently hit the market. In one clinical trial, patients on Qsymia lost about 6.7 percent of their body weight over a year. But while this drug marks a promising step in the battle against obesity, it's not for everyone.

Potential side effects include glaucoma, fast heart rate, depression, and thoughts of suicide. At this point, little is known about its long-term effects on the heart or other systems of the body. Given these serious concerns, the makers of Qsymia are recommending it only for people who are obese (BMI over 30) or who are overweight and have related health problems such as type 2 diabetes. And I should add that the drug only works in conjunction with exercise and a calorie-restricted diet—it's not a magic bullet.

If you believe you need a medication to help you reach a healthy weight, talk to your doctor and ask her to carefully review the risks and benefits before you decide to take any drug.

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