Dexfenfluramine increases serotonergic activity by stimulating serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine; 5-HT) release into brain synapses, inhibiting its reuptake into presynaptic neurons and by directly stimulating postsynaptic serotonin receptors. On the basis of the serotonin hypothesis of appetite control, these actions would be expected to reduce appetite and, consequently, bodyweight. Studies conducted in animals and in overweight patients with and without associated disorders have confirmed the weight-reducing efficacy and good tolerability of dexfenfluramine. In 3-month clinical studies in obese patients, weight reductions with dexfenfluramine 15mg twice daily combined with dietary support were significantly higher than those achieved with placebo and similar to those with ephedrine/caffeine 20/20mg 3 times daily, sibutramine 10mg once daily and fluoxetine 60 mg/day. Furthermore, dexfenfluramine recipients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidaemia or hypertension consistently show improvements in glycaemic control, blood lipid profiles and blood pressure. 12-month trial results indicate that most weight loss occurs in the initial 6 months and appears to be maintained for a further 6 months. Weight regain after withdrawal of treatment in 12-month studies demonstrates that dexfenfluramine is effective in maintaining a stable bodyweight at a lower level than placebo and in limiting food intake over this time period. Commonly reported adverse events with dexfenfluramine include diarrhoea, tiredness, dry mouth and somnolence; these symptoms are generally mild and transient. Approximately 7 and 10% of dexfenfluramine recipients in short and long term studies withdrew because of adverse events. Dexfenfluramine was better tolerated than ephedrine/caffeine and fluoxetine in short term studies. Obesity is a chronic condition that is accompanied by a number of metabolic complications. It is a significant health problem in developed countries, and as a major risk factor for many chronic diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the economic burden of this condition is considerable. As with other chronic conditions, there is a role for pharmacological intervention in patients with severe obesity. However, drugs should be considered as only one component of a weight-control programme, since additional lifestyle modification is required to maintain weight loss. The promising data on the long term efficacy and tolerability of dexfenfluramine as well as its favourable effects on risk factors associated with obesity requires confirmation in long term studies. In the meantime, dexfenfluramine should be considered a valuable adjunct to a reduced-calorie diet in the management of severe obesity, particularly in patients with associated disorders and those unsuccessful with conventional weight loss measures. Available data support the use of the drug for up to 1 year to maintain weight loss and thus dexfenfluramine should be considered for long term administration.