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Effects of Weight Loss Drugs on Heart Health Remain Unclear Finds Study

CardioSmart News

While FDA-approved weight loss drugs show promise, we have a long way to go in understanding their long-term impact on heart health, based on a recent review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

This review focused on three new drugs recently approved to treat obesity, including liraglutide, naltrexone-bupropion, and phentermine-topiramate. These drugs are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the management of obesity and show promise in combatting growing obesity rates. However, experts wonder about their long-term effect on heart health, especially since previously approved weight-loss drugs like sibutramine and fenfluramine were eventually withdrawn from the market due to negative cardiovascular effects.

The good news, according to authors, is that the FDA has since set a higher bar for current weight loss drugs. All three drugs have passed a stricter safety assessment and continue to be assessed now that they’re on the market. Authors report that overall, liraglutide, naltrexone-bupropion and phentermine-topiramate generally have favorable effects on heart health, including lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Liraglutide and naltrexone-bupropion also appear to boost HDL or “good” cholesterol levels.

However, the heart health benefits from drug-assisted weight loss are fewer than those associated with weight loss achieved without medication. For example, liraglutide, naltrexone-bupropion, and phentermine-topiramate appear to improve blood pressure levels overall. But these benefits are less than would be expected from weight loss with diet and lifestyle changes. While weight loss is generally associated with reductions in heart rate, current studies link all three drugs to increased heart rate. 

Based on findings, authors highlight the need for additional research on liraglutide, naltrexone-bupropion, and phentermine-topiramate. After all, most studies have only had one year of follow-up, and none have specifically compared long-term effects of these drugs, especially as they relate to heart health.

Authors also stress the need for patients to be informed about potential side effects of weight loss drugs, in addition to the absence of long-term outcomes data. Weight loss drugs are generally reserved for patients that have failed at weight loss. It’s important that patients are well-educated about their treatment options for obesity.

Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Learn about CardioSmart's editorial process. Information provided for educational purposes only. Please talk to your health care professional about your specific needs.