Obesity is one of the most common medical problems in the United States and a risk factor for illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, degenerative arthritis and myocardial infarction. It is a cause of significant morbidity and mortality and generates great social and financial costs. Obesity is defined as a body mass index greater than 30. Many patients accomplish weight loss with diet, exercise and lifestyle modification.
Others require more aggressive therapy. Weight loss medications may be appropriate for use in selected patients who meet the definition of obesity or who are overweight with comorbid conditions. Medications are formulated to reduce energy intake, increase energy output or decrease the absorption of nutrients.
Drugs cannot replace diet, exercise and lifestyle modification, which remain the cornerstones of obesity treatment. Two new agents, sibutramine and orlistat, exhibit novel mechanisms of action and avoid some of the side effects that occurred with earlier drugs. Sibutramine acts to block uptake of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, while orlistat decreases fat absorption in the intestines.