If you took the diet pill Fen Phen during the 1990s and now suffer from heart valve leaks or other heart troubles, you may still be able to file a lawsuit and receive compensation for your injuries. The symptoms of Fen Phen injuries may not be diagnosed for several years after you took these diet pills.
What is the problem with Fen Phen?
Fen Phen is a diet pill that was very popular for a couple years in the mid-1990s. It contained a combination of two chemicals:
- Fenfluramine (“Fen”) — This drug made a person’s brain release serotonin, which made them feel full, satisfied, and less likely to eat. It also made people feel drowsy.
- Phentermine (“Phen”) — This drug is a mild stimulant.
Fenfluramine had been around for a while, but was never very successful because it made people feel drowsy. When it was combined with Phentermine, a mild stimulant, Fen Phen was born and the diet craze began in earnest. Doctors began prescribing Fen Phen “off-label” for quick, effective weight-loss.
The manufacturers began pushing a second diet pill on the U.S. market: Redux. Redux was another diet pill that contained a derivative of fenfluramine, called dexfenfluramine. Though a safety study in Europe had recently linked fenfluramine and its derivatives to Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH), a permanent and life-threatening damage to blood vessels in the lungs, Redux manufacturers pushed for Redux to be approved.
In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Redux. The diet pill craze exploded. The drug-company selling Redux and Fen Phen spent $52 million on advertising campaign that included articles in popular women’s magazines. Almost overnight, doctors were prescribing the pills to millions of people. In 1996, sales were $300 million, and more than 18 million prescriptions were filled.
The success would not last long.
Doctors were suddenly seeing cases of unusual heart valve leaks, and damage to blood vessels. Even people who had only been taking the pills for a few weeks had evidence of damage to their heart valves. The FDA received 75 reports of Fen Phen induced injuries. On September 15, 1997, the FDA ordered Fen Phen, Pondimin, and Redux taken on the shelves in the U.S. and banned their sale.
What is a heart valve leak?
When blood pumps through a normal heart, it passes through four chambers. The valves between these chambers act like one-way doors to keep blood moving in the same direction. Sometimes, heart valves can become damaged. There is conclusive evidence linking Fen Phen to heart valve leaks and damage — even for people who only took the pills for a few weeks.
There are four valves in the heart:
- Tricuspid valve
- Pulmonary valve
- Mitral valve
- Aortic valve
A normal valve consists of three “flaps” (except the mitral valve, which has two). When these flaps become damaged, blood may leak backward through the heart. This is called valve regurgitation. If only a small amount of blood is moving backward, a person may show no symptoms. In severe cases, the amount of backward-flowing blood can impair the forward-flow of blood, and cause serious symptoms that can lead to death if they go undiagnosed or untreated. Serious complications of heart valve leaks include congestive heart failure and death.
Symptoms of Heart Valve Leaks
These symptoms may be precursors to a far more serious, life-threatening side effect. If you have any of these symptoms, go to an emergency doctor immediately.
- Shortness of breath, especially during activity, but maybe also when you are resting
- Chest pain
- Easy fatigue
- Rapid heart rate
- Heart flutter, palpitations
Often times, heart valve leaks are symptomless for a long time and are not diagnosed until many years after the patient was injured, even when the heart valve leaks are moderate or severe.
Heart Valve Leaks and Congestive Heart Failure
Over time, as you can probably imagine, the heart must work extra hard to pump blood to your body through the defective heart valve. If you are healthy, the heart may be able to accomplish this task for a while, and you may not notice any symptoms. But over time, serious problems can develop.
Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is working too hard. The pumping muscle thickens, making the heart grow larger. Over time, this muscle can actually get too thick and stiff to pump effectively, and the heart may fail.
Injuries Linked to Fen Phen
- Primary Pulmonary Hypertension (PPH)
- Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH)
- Heart valve damage
- Leaky heart valve
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart murmur
- Damage to blood vessels in the lungs
- Heart failure