PHILADELPHIA -- People who took the diet pill combination fen-phen and a similar weight loss drug have new hope that any damage done to their heart valves may not worsen with time or may even improve, two new studies show.
About 6 million people took the drugs before they were pulled off the market and research has suggested that up to a third of them may have suffered some heart valve damage.
A study published in Tuesday's Annals of Internal Medicine looked at patients who took fenfluramine, the "fen" in the fen-phen cocktail. A second study, also published in the medical journal, dealt with people who took dexfenfluramine, a chemical cousin of fenfluramine.
The studies found that leaking heart valves got no worse with time and in some cases got better. A leaky valve makes the heart less efficient; severe leakage can cause heart failure.
The research mirrors the results of three previous studies.
The leader of the dexfenfluramine study, Dr. Neil Weissman of the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., said people with valve damage should be reassured by the findings.
"If you took diet pills and you (developed) a mild degree of (valve damage), it is unlikely that it will go on to become severe, and it is possible it may even get better," he said.
Dr. Jack Crary, one of the study's authors and the first doctor to warn of possible heart damage from fen-phen, said the research confirms what he has seen in his practice.
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