An ingredient found in dozens of over the counter cold and allergy medicines, as well as appetite suppressants and other weight loss drugs, has been found to increase the risk of haemorrhagic stroke in women, according to a new study.

The results of a five year study by Yale University show overwhelmingly that phenylpropanolamine (PPA) poses a serious threat to women’s health.

The researchers compared 702 patients, aged 18 to 49, who had experienced haemorrhagic stroke with 1376 control patients. They found that, among women, the risk of stroke was as much as 15 times higher in those who had taken appetite suppressants in the three days before the stroke. Among those using medications containing PPA for the first time, the risk of stroke was three times higher than for women who did not take the drug.

The study included too few men to draw firm conclusions about the health risk to men. However, the researchers have suggested that PPA may be the cause of as many as 500 strokes per year in the US.

The full study is due to be published later this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, but its findings were released early because of the potential public health implications.

In an attempt to remove all OTC medications containing PPA, the US Food and Drug Administration has asked all drug manufacturers to voluntarily cease production of products containing PPA. In the UK, the Committee on the Safety of Medicines is also reviewing the evidence on PPA, though there has been no call for a ban on medications containing the compound (BMJ, 2000; 321: 1037).

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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