The prescription drug semaglutide, sold primarily under the brand name Ozempic, is prescribed to help people with diabetes control blood sugar and help with long-term weight management.
In recent weeks, however, this drug has become the subject of controversy, as it has gone viral on social media as a weight loss solution, even for those without diabetes.
The outcry over Ozempic, which is sold as a liquid solution administered as an injection under the skin, has caused shortages of the drug. This has created serious problems for those who actually need their prescription drugs to make sure their bodies can release insulin to control diabetes.
“We constantly get calls from patients who can’t find it,” he said. Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., director of population health for Baptist Health and chief of cardiology for Miami Heart and Vascular Institute. “Pharmacies are out of it, and we’re jumping through hoops so they can continue with the drug.”
No one should take this medication unless prescribed by a doctor who can supervise your treatment. Research has found that those who are prescribed the drug and stop using it may regain weight, especially if they did not make any lifestyle changes.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Ozempic in 2017 for use in people with type 2 diabetes. Ozempic tells the pancreas to create more insulin, which helps control blood sugar levels. blood and also reduces glucagon, a hormone that raises blood sugar levels. This can result in weight loss, but Ozempic has not been approved for that purpose.
Serious side effects of Ozempic may 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 hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Milder side effects associated with Ozempic include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting. Hypoglycemia can cause blurred vision, trouble concentrating, confused thinking, slurred speech, numbness, and drowsiness.
“If you lose weight quickly and don’t start to control yourself, you could pass out and break your hip or break your head,” said Dr. Fialkow. “These medications should be supervised by your doctor.”
Even the most serious risks may not be well understood because the effects of semaglutide (Ozempic) have not been studied enough in a broader population.
“Are these people taking other medications or have other conditions that might not be safe with Ozempic that have not been studied?” Dr. Fialkow said. “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 medication known as glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), and is part of an established therapy for the control of type 2 diabetes. GLP-1 therapy is recommended in the early stages of type 2 diabetes treatment, which also results in some weight loss and favorable management of heart disease. In recent studies, GLP-1 therapies have been shown to be effective in reducing obesity, which is a major risk factor for diabetes, in people with other underlying health problems, such as diabetes or prediabetes, a condition that can lead to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
In a recent study, another class of drug, 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 allows weight loss by increasing incretin, which is the hormone that controls hunger.