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The big downside of some life-changing medications

Several years ago, I listened in a state of semi-shock as a doctor gave me a classic bad news-good news combination: The autoimmune system disorder I had was incurable and life-threatening, but researchers had recently discovered that a certain package of medications could put it into remission. I remember that conversation well, but I don't recall the doctor mentioning much, if anything, about the side effects of those medications.

At age 12, Jena Graves of Napa, Calif. faced the same serious situation. She was diagnosed with the autoimmune system disease lupus, and among her essential medications was the same steroid I was given, prednisone. It's a go-to medication for millions who suffer from conditions including asthma and diabetes; it's also on a short list of commonly prescribed "obesogenic" drugs whose effect on the body includes rapid weight gain.

Graves, just 5 feet 2 inches tall, shot up from 120 pounds to 272 pounds and developed Type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related health problems.

A colleague recently shared Graves' story, which was told again in today's San Francisco Chronicle. In the piece, Stanford's John Morton, MD, who performed gastric bypass surgery on Graves this summer, raises a flag on behalf of patients like her:

"All these medications are absolutely wonderful when they work in the right patients," [said Morton]. "But we've got to figure out if it's appropriate or not to blanket America with prednisone and other obesity-generating drugs that are creating problems."

Graves isn't the only patient who has paid the price for being on one prescription too many, he said.

"I can't tell you how many patients come in to see me who've been on medications for years," he said. He asks: "Why are you on this medication? 'I don't know.' Has someone followed up? 'No. I just get my prescription refilled."

Previously: When medications cause severe obesity

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