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Woman gained weight, face became puffy

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Health warning issued on anti-itch herbal product

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) issued a warning about a health product, labelled in Chinese as "Hai Leng Hai Beh Herbal Itch Removing Capsule", after a consumer suffered a serious adverse reaction.

In a press release, the HSA said that a woman in her 40s had bought the capsules from a retail store in Malaysia, based on a relative's recommendation, to relieve an itchy skin condition.

Although her skin improved within a day of taking the capsules, she had rapid weight gain and her face became puffy after taking the capsules for two months.

She was then diagnosed with Cushing's syndrome, a metabolic disorder.

The capsules contained potent medicinal ingredients, namely dexamethasone (a steroid), chlorpheniramine (an antihistamine) and paracetamol (a painkiller), although they were labelled as being 100 per cent herbal.

Dexamethsone is usually prescribed for inflammatory conditions.

Long-term unsupervised use can lead to Cushing's syndrome, as well as increased blood glucose levels that cause diabetes, high blood pressure, cataracts and muscular and bone disorders.

Chlorpheniramine, which is used for allergic reactions, can cause drowsiness, blurred vision, vomiting and constipation. Paracetamol can cause rashes and the swelling of the lips or face.

The HSA said that although the product was bought overseas, it does not "rule out" the possibility of the capsules being sold here. It said sellers should stop the sale and distribution of the capsules immediately.

Those caught selling the product may be fined up to $10,000 and jailed for up to two years under the Poisons Act if convicted.

HSA encouraged people to go to www.healthdangers.sg to learn more about the dangers of buying health products from dubious sources.

If you are currently consuming the product, consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Do not stop the use of the capsules immediately as sudden discontinuation of steroids without proper medical supervision can cause serious withdrawal symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, confusion and low blood pressure, especially when it has been consumed for more than a few weeks.

People who have any information on the sale and supply of the capsules or other illegal products can contact HSA's Enforcement Branch on 6866 3485 during office hours, Monday to Friday or e-mail hsa_is@hsa.gov.sg