Popular weight loss drug Meridia could cause an increased risk of non-fatal heart attacks and stroke though there is no reason yet to suggest that taking the drug could up the risk of death in patients with a history of heart disease, a new study says.

The study, funded by drugmakers Abbott who manufacture Meridia, there is nothing new in the findings which are in line with what is already known about the drug and should not cause any change in the way it is prescribed.

"The only time you've got an increase in heart attacks or strokes were in those patients who had had previous heart disease or strokes, in other words, the people who . . . should never have received the drug in the first place," says Dr. Philip T. James, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in England, and first author on the study.

Since earlier this year, the drug Meridia has carried a warning label indicating that it should not be used by people having an existing heart condition. The latest study report has appeared in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

In related news, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has revealed that it will be meeting later this month to decide whether more regulatory action would be required to monitor the use of this medicine. There is also a view that it should be completely removed from the market.

Medical experts believe that the latest study is nonetheless crucial as it represents the first hand data that is required by the FDA to consider the drug's future. They believe that the drug was not making people healthier and was in fact making some worse. They argue that since there was concrete evidence of the negative impact of a drug, it should be taken off the market.

The trial involved a sample size of 11,000 older overweight adults suffering from type 2 diabetes or heart disease. They were randomly split into groups who took Meridia or a placebo after which the researchers did a follow up.

It was found that in the group taking Meridia, 11.4 percent suffered a heart attack or stroke or had died as a result of a heart disease compared to 10 percent from the control group. It was also observed that people taking the drug had a 28 percent higher risk of non-fatal heart attack and a 36 percent increased risk of non-fatal stroke compared to those who were taking placebo.

All the trial participants were continuously put on a diet-and exercise regimen to lose weight.