Psychiatric side effects attributed to phenylpropanolamine

by Lake CR, Masson EB, Quirk RS
Dept. of Psychiatry,
F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine,
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences,
Bethesda, Maryland.
Pharmacopsychiatry 1988 Jul; 21(4):171-81


Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) is a sympathomimetic drug similar in structure to amphetamine which, in the United States, is present in over 130 medications, primarily decongestants, cough/cold remedies, and anorectic agents. We have reviewed 37 cases (published in North America and Europe since 1960) that received diagnoses of acute mania, paranoid schizophrenia, and organic psychosis and that were attributed to PPA product ingestion. Of the 27 North American case reports, more reactions followed the ingestion of combination products than preparations containing PPA alone; more occurred after ingestion of over-the-counter products than those obtained by prescription or on-the-street; and more of the cases followed ingestion of recommended doses than overdoses. Groups at particular risk appear to be those with a past or family psychiatric history, children under the age of 6 and post-partum women. Failure to recognize PPA as an etiological agent in the onset of symptoms usually led to a diagnosis of schizophrenia or mania, lengthy hospitalization, and treatment with substantial doses of neuroleptics or lithium. While generally safe at recommended doses, PPA can be hazardous to susceptible individuals and we urge physicians to be alert to the potential for PPA related psychiatric reactions. We have compiled an alphabetized table (Table 1: Prescription and Over-the-Counter Products Containing Phenylpropanolamine) allowing busy clinicians quick access to those drugs containing PPA.