While diet and exercise are a sure-fire weight loss tactic for most, for some people, such as the obese, medication may be recommended.

Medications aren't "magic cures" leading to permanent weight loss. They're generally used in combination with a proper diet and exercise program. They are only for people who are classified as obese, or with a BMI of 27 or higher with extra heart disease risk factors such as high cholesterol or diabetes.

Appetite suppressants are one type of medication that has been used to manage obesity. These medications act in the brain to decrease appetite. Prescription medications that have been used in the past as an appetite suppressant include sibutramine and diethylpropion; however, both medications have been taken off the market. Once-popular appetite suppressants such as fenfluramine and phentermine (often given in combination and known as "fen-phen") have also been taken off the market. These weight loss medications and sibutramine were linked to heart-related problems and are no longer used for treating obesity.

Another type of medication used for weight loss prevents the absorption of fat from the bowel. Orlistat blocks the action of an enzyme called lipase, which is found in the intestine and breaks down fat. Fat in the diet is prevented from being absorbed and is eliminated in the stool. Side effects associated with orlistat include oily and frequent bowel movements and gas with some discharge. These side effects are reduced when fat intake is reduced.

There are also a number of over-the-counter and herbal weight loss products available, but it's important to check with your doctor before you use them. They may not be suitable for people with some health conditions and some products can be dangerous while combined with other medications.

When reviewing suitable management options, it's important to consider the risks and benefits of each option. Your doctor and other health care professionals can provide you with the information you need to make an informed choice about what options are best for you.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team