Review of the Ongoing Story of Appetite Suppressants, Serotonin Pathway, and Pulmonary Vascular Disease

Am J Cardiol. 2016 May 15;117(10):1691-1696. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2016.02.049. Epub 2016 Mar 2.


Obesity is pandemic in the Western Hemisphere, especially in the United States (US) and is associated with morbidity and mortality. Recent data show that a large proportion of the US population is at least overweight and almost 2 in 5 Americans are obese. This ongoing trend of increasing obesity rates has led to a thriving market for anorexigens. Despite the health benefits of weight loss, several anorexigens had devastating side effects including pulmonary vascular disease which manifests as the clinical syndrome of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). PAH is an incurable and fatal disease and is characterized by vascular constriction, hypertrophy, and proliferation that over time lead to right-sided cardiac failure. Over the past few decades, several weight loss medications have been associated with the development of PAH, possibly caused by an increase in systemic serotonin levels, resulting in vasoconstriction of the pulmonary arteries and initiating a cascade of pathologic vascular remodeling leading to vascular fibrosis. Once sufficient evidence for the association of these drugs with PAH or other related pathologies was found, many were removed from the market. However, there are other appetite suppressants still currently on the market (whether Food and Drug Administration-approved or "dietary supplements") that have to some extent similar mechanisms of action to those associated with PAH but lack robust enough data to prove or disprove an association. The serotonin pathway seems to be repeatedly implicated. In conclusion, given that PAH is a progressive and debilitating disease, it is important to highlight possible risk factors that could be avoided.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Appetite Depressants / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / blood
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / epidemiology
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / etiology*
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / drug therapy*
  • Pulmonary Artery / physiopathology*
  • Pulmonary Circulation*
  • Serotonin / blood*
  • Vasoconstriction / physiology*


  • Appetite Depressants
  • Serotonin