Thursday, September 20, 2012

Women beware! That slimming pill can kill you

Devastated: Michelle Rumsay is only expected to live for another 10 years after she took an over-the-counter cold and flu remedy consistently to help her control her weight
It is always better to opt for natural means of losing weight: regular exercise or working out and watching what is eaten. I’m sceptical of any drug that purportedly helps people to slim down. They always come with a price not stated on the box.

A woman in the UK has just been told she has only 10 years to live after a consistent use of slimming pills for four years negatively affected her heart.

Like most women, Michelle Rumsey thought that dropping a dress size would give her confidence a much-needed boost. At 5ft 5in tall and weighing 9st 6lb, she was hardly overweight, but hated the extra fat she had put on around her middle.

In search of a quick-fix one evening, she came across an internet forum on slimming pills where dieters talked about using a drug called Ephedrine to speed up their metabolism and help them lose weight.

Michelle, now 46, placed an order for the drug online — a decision that was to have tragic consequences. She developed a four-year dependence on the pills, causing a heart condition that has left her with a life expectancy of just ten years.

‘I’m angry and depressed that I have effectively been handed a death sentence,’ she says. ‘It never occurred to me that these pills could be so dangerous.’

Ephedrine is legal in the UK and available without prescription. Marketed as a cold and flu remedy, internet chatrooms are awash with women waxing lyrical about its weight-loss properties.

It is one of several ‘diet’ drugs being used by increasing numbers of women desperate for a short-cut to weight loss.
Until she reached her late 30s, Michelle, from Saxmundham, Suffolk, was the epitome of good health. At 8st 7lb and a size ten, she ran a horse yard and enjoyed running, cycling and climbing.

In November 2005, she met Michael Harrowven, a steel constructor, then 28. Michelle relaxed into her new romance, letting her healthy eating habits slip and swapping salads for Michael’s favourite fast foods. By the following May, she’d put on 13lb.

Michelle says: ‘Michael said I looked beautiful but I was 39 and 11 years his senior. I wanted to look like his girlfriend, not his mother.’

She researched slimming pills online, and on one forum, users recommended Ephedrine.

A naturally occurring substance with amphetamine-like properties, it is not prescribed as a slimming aid, but is available as an over-the-counter cold remedy.

It can increase blood pressure, however, leading to heart disease, anxiety and insomnia. Its dangers have not gone unnoticed by the medical profession.

‘There is a move to make it prescription-only,’ says Dr Campbell.

Michelle didn’t realise Ephedrine was available in Britain, so she ordered 50 tablets for £12 from a manufacturer in Canada, which was marketing it as a nasal decongestant.

She bought two packets of 50 tablets every month and admits she should have known better.
‘I actually thought it was illegal, but didn’t see how it could be dangerous. Michael was against the idea, but I was determined to lose weight,’ she says.

She started taking two tablets a day, cut down on what she was eating, and was delighted when she lost 7lb in three weeks. By August 2006, she weighed 8st and was a size eight.

‘I skipped breakfast and dinner and had a baked potato with a small amount of cheese mid-afternoon,’ she says.

‘Michael said I was too skinny, but I liked the way I looked. The pills kept my appetite down and I was convinced that if I stopped taking them, the weight would pile back on.’

In February 2008 she and Michael broke up, but her addiction to the pills continued. Two years later, she started suffering side-effects after she’d taken her pill one morning.

‘I felt light-headed. The room was blurred and my heart was racing. After ten minutes, my heart rate went back to normal, but I was terrified. I was sure the pills were to blame and threw them in the bin.’
Despite her decision to stop taking the tablets, Michelle didn’t put on any weight. ‘I’d been spending £12 a month for nothing,’ she says.

In September 2010, Michelle met Mark Malster, 39, a mechanic, and they started seeing each other. They were out on a bike ride together that month when she suddenly developed chest pains.

She says: ‘Over the next few weeks, I became more out of breath, and within a month I found it hard to walk up half a flight of stairs without gasping for air.’

In January 2011, Michelle’s GP referred her to the specialist heart and lung hospital, Papworth, in Cambridgeshire. She had scans and tests, and in September 2011 was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension — high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs which causes heart failure.

Ephedrine had constricted the vessels in Michelle’s lungs, and the doctor said her heart was under so much pressure it wouldn’t be able to cope for much longer.

It is illegal for shopkeepers and chemists to sell it in large quantities because it is dangerous if taken for long periods of time or in large volumes. But the drug is sold over-the-counter because it is intended for short-term use as a nasal decongestant.

Michelle was prescribed a cocktail of seven drugs to keep her blood vessels open, her blood thin and the muscles in her lungs working.

When they fail — and doctors can’t predict when — she will have to have a tube inserted into her heart to infuse drugs to keep it pumping. Her life expectancy is now just ten years.

‘I couldn’t stop crying when the doctor told me what was wrong,’ she says.‘I thought about all the experiences I’ll miss and the horrible death I’ll have, bed-ridden and breathless. Mark is supportive, but we are both devastated.’

Michelle no longer works at the horse yard, and even a simple walk leaves her exhausted.

‘I’m so angry with myself,’ she says. ‘Nobody forced me to take them.’

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