Obesity levels are increasing
A leading obesity drug is being suspended from use in the UK amid fears it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has told doctors to stop prescribing sibutramine and review its use in patients already taking it.
The drug works by altering chemical messages to the brain which control cravings for food.
The regulator says it has been used by 86,000 people in the past year.
While it is a common obesity drug, the most popular, orlistat, a pill which prevents fat absorption, is much more widely used and is taken by hundreds of thousands of people each year.
The regulator acted after a review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended suspending its licence in Europe.
This decision still has to be formally ratified by the European Commission.
But Dr June Raine, of the MHRA, said: "Evidence suggests that there is an increased risk of non-fatal heart attacks and strokes with this medicine that outweigh the benefits of weight loss, which is modest and may not be sustained in the long term after stopping treatment.
"Prescribers are advised not to issue any new prescriptions and to review the treatment of patients taking the drug.
"Pharmacists are asked to cease dispensing the medicine.
"People who are currently taking sibutramine are advised to make a routine appointment with their doctor to discuss alternative measures to lose weight. There are no health implications if people wish to stop treatment before seeing their doctor."
Speaking after the EMA's decision, Eugene Sun, from Abbott which makes sibutramine, said: "We believe there are many patients who benefit from sibutramine and respectfully disagree with the... recommendation to suspend the medicine.
"However, we will act promptly to comply with the committee's recommendation."