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Heart Valve Abnormalities Examined In Relation To Duration Of Diet Drug Use

NEW ORLEANS -- In the largest study of its kind, Duke University Medical Center researchers found that the longer a person used a popular duet of diet drugs known as "fen/phen," the greater the likelihood they had a heart valve abnormality.

Duke researchers said in a report prepared for the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology that they found evidence on a cardiac diagnostic test of "mild or greater aortic regurgitation" in 8.8 percent of 1,163 patients who used fen/phen for three months or more. In comparison, they detected the same problem in 3.6 percent of a control group of 672 overweight people who had not taken the drug.

In a study funded by Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, makers of the "fen" in fen/phen, the research team determined that the prevalence of this valve problem was related to the duration of time the drug was used. Among those who used the diet drug combo for less than six months, there was no increase in mild or greater aortic regurgitation, but "the longer people in this study took the drugs, the greater the likelihood that they showed some abnormality on an echocardiogram," said Duke cardiologist Dr. Thomas Ryan.

He added that most of the cases of aortic regurgitation noted by the research team were graded as "trace or mild. In our clinical experience, most patients with mild aortic regurgitation have few if any symptoms because the heart can compensate for this leakage," Ryan said.

Aortic regurgitation occurs when blood leaks from the aorta -- the large artery that distributes blood to the body -- back through the aortic valve into the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber. Ryan said that while the likelihood of developing the leaking valve increased the longer a person took fen/phen, it didn't mean the problem became more and more severe over time.

Ryan also said that the Duke cardiology team noted a statistically significant increase i
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Contact: Renee Twombly
Renee Twombly
919-684-4148
Duke University Medical Center
9-Mar-1999


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