Semaglutide, a prescription drug, sold primarily under the brand name Ozempic, is prescribed to help people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels and manage their weight over the long term.
In recent weeks, however, this drug has become a controversial topic as it has gone viral on social media as a weight loss solution – even for those without diabetes.
The clamor for Ozempic, which is sold as a liquid solution given by injection under the skin, has caused drug shortages. This has created serious problems for those who actually need their prescribed medication to ensure that their body can release insulin to control diabetes.
“We constantly get calls from patients who can’t find it,” said Jonathan Fialkow, MD, Chief Population Health Officer for Baptist Health and Chief Cardiology Officer at Miami Heart and Vascular Institute. “Pharmacies are overwhelmed, and we’re jumping through hoops so they can keep taking the drugs.”
No one should take this medicine unless prescribed by a doctor who can supervise their treatment. Research has shown that those who are prescribed the drug and stop using it may regain weight, especially if they haven’t made any lifestyle changes.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Ozempic in 2017 for use in people with type 2 diabetes. Ozempic signals the pancreas to create more insulin, which helps control blood sugar and reduces also glucagon, a hormone that raises blood sugar. It may cause weight loss, but Ozempic has not been approved for this purpose.
Serious side effects of Ozempic can include: diabetic retinopathy (damaged blood vessels in the eye); gallstones; kidney problems, including kidney failure; swelling of the pancreas; increased risk of thyroid cancer; allergic reaction and hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Milder side effects with Ozempic include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting. Low blood sugar can cause blurred vision, difficulty concentrating, confused thinking, slurred speech, numbness, and drowsiness.
“If you lose weight quickly and don’t start watching, you could pass out and break your hip or your head,” Dr. Fialkow said. “These drugs should be monitored by your doctor.”
The more serious risks may not even be well known because the effects of semaglutide (Ozempic) have not been studied well enough in a larger population.
“Are these people taking any other medications or do they have other conditions that may not be safe with Ozempic that have not been studied?” said Dr. Fialkow. “We don’t know enough about interactions with other drugs, which have their own established side effects that we know people will experience.”
Semaglutide belongs to a class of drugs known as glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) and is part of an established therapy for the management of type 2 diabetes. GLP-1 therapy is recommended at the beginning treatment of type 2 diabetes, also resulting in some weight reduction and favorable management of heart disease. In recent studies, GLP-1 therapies have been shown to be effective in reducing obesity, which is a primary risk factor for diabetes, in people with other underlying health conditions, including diabetes or prediabetes. , a condition that can lead to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
In a recent study, another class of drugs – the glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) – was combined with GLP-1 to form another drug that is not yet widely available for weight loss. The new drug helps people lose weight by increasing incretin, which is the hormone that controls hunger.