Can Ozempic® Help Me Lose Weight?

nutritionist speaking with a patient

The Bottom Line

Semaglutide (Wegovy®, Ozempic®, Rybelsus®) and liraglutide (Saxenda®) are members of the GLP-1 agonist class of drugs. These prescription medications help improve blood sugar control and are often prescribed to diabetic patients. In non-diabetic patients who are overweight or obese, certain GLP-1 agonists are also approved by the FDA to help with weight control.

spilled bottle of diet medication on a measuring tape

What is obesity?

Obesity is a chronic health condition that affects an increasing number of people worldwide. In the United States, more than 70% of adults are overweight (often defined as having a BMI of 25-29 kg/m2), and more than 40% have obesity (BMI greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2). Complications of obesity include diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, anxiety, depression, and a reduced life expectancy. Because modest weight reduction can reduce many of these complications, scientists have developed prescription medications to help obese and overweight individuals achieve better weight control and have healthier, longer lives.

What are weight loss medications?

Since the 1990’s, multiple prescription medications have been evaluated and approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for weight management in overweight or obese individuals. Some of these drugs were better known for their undesirable side effects than for their weight loss benefits. Orlistat (Xenical®), which was approved by the FDA in 1999, was associated with oily rectal leakage, gassiness, or abnormal bowel movements. Lorcaserin (Belviq®), approved by the FDA in 2012, was withdrawn from the market in 2020 due to concerns that it caused cancer. There are also several so-called “weight loss supplements.” Unlike prescription and over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What are some new weight loss medications?

In 2014, the FDA approved liraglutide (Saxenda®) for chronic weight management in obese or overweight adults with weight-related medical conditions, and the FDA expanded the approval age range to those aged 12 and older in 2020. In 2021, the FDA approved semaglutide (Wegovy®) for chronic weight management in obese or overweight adults with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes mellitus, or high cholesterol. 

What are Ozempic®, Saxenda®, and Rybelsus®?

Liraglutide (Saxenda®, Victoza®) and semaglutide (Wegovy®, Ozempic®, Rybelsus®) belong to the “GLP-1 receptor agonist” class of drugs. GLP-1 is a hormone produced by the body in response to food intake. GLP-1 agonist drugs help the body make higher levels of GLP-1, which in turn can affect hunger, food intake, and weight. Since GLP-1 also affects insulin release and blood sugar control, some GLP-1 agonist drugs are also used to treat diabetes mellitus. GLP-1 agonist drugs are available in both oral and injectable forms. Rybelsus® is an oral formulation of semaglutide, while Wegovy® and Ozempic® are injectable. Saxenda® and Victoza® are injectable versions of liraglutide. 

Ozempic® vs Wegovy®

Ozempic®, Wegovy®, and Rybelsus® all contain the same active ingredient, semaglutide. However, the drugs are dosed differently, and are prescribed for treatment of different conditions. Ozempic® and Rybelsus® are only approved to improve blood sugar control in adults with diabetes, while Wegovy® is approved for weight management.

Table: common GLP-1 agonist prescription medications

Brand Name

Generic Name

Formulation

Ozempic®

semaglutide

injection (0.25-2 mg per injection)

Wegovy®

semaglutide

injection (0.25-2.4 mg per injection)

Rybelsus®

semaglutide

oral (3, 7, and 14 mg tablets)

Saxenda®

liraglutide

injection (0.6-3 mg per injection)

Victoza®

liraglutide

injection (0.6-1.8 mg per injection)

How does Ozempic® work?

Ozempic® is not insulin, and acts on the body differently than insulin does. Because of their effects on food intake, members of the GLP-1 class of drugs, including semaglutide and liraglutide, have many potential effects in the human body that affect hunger and weight. These drugs slow the rate at which food is transferred from the stomach to the intestines (called “gastric emptying”), which enhances the feeling of a full stomach. The drugs also pass through the bloodstream into the brain, where they act on the nervous system to decrease both food intake and appetite.

Can you use Ozempic® for weight loss?

Ozempic® is approved by the FDA to improve blood sugar control and reduce risk of heart disease in diabetic patients. While Ozempic® is not currently FDA approved for use as a weight loss drug, many studies have investigated the effects of GLP-1 agonist drugs on weight loss. In a 2009 study that evaluated the weight-loss effects of liraglutide versus Orlistat® or placebo, individuals who used liraglutide lost, on average, 11-16 pounds (4.8-7.2 kilograms) over 20 weeks. In a 68-week trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March 2021, obese or overweight adults who took semaglutide had a 15% decrease on body weight, and also experienced improvements in physical function and risk factors for heart disease. The results of one study suggest that injectable semaglutide is more effective in promoting weight loss than oral liraglutide.

What happens when you stop taking Ozempic®?

Weight loss caused by GLP-1 agonist drugs is not always permanent. In clinical trials, people who stopped taking semaglutide regained the majority of their prior weight loss with a year. In addition, those who stopped taking semaglutide also experienced increases in blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, suggesting that continued use of the medication is needed to maintain both weight loss and reduction in risk factors for heart disease.

Is semaglutide (Ozempic®) safe?

GLP-1 agonist drugs, including semaglutide (Wegovy®, Ozempic®, Rybelsus®), and liraglutide (Saxenda®), are generally well tolerated and are not associated with significant unwanted side effects. Common adverse effects of these medications include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

Does insurance cover Ozempic®?

While semaglutide (Wegovy®, Ozempic®, Rybelsus®), and liraglutide (Saxenda®) are approved by the FDA, individual insurance coverage policies for these medications can vary. 

What do I do if I had a bad reaction to, or took too much, semaglutide (Wegovy®, Ozempic®, Rybelsus®), or liraglutide (Saxenda®)?

If you took too much or have unwanted or unexpected side effects after use of GLP-1 agonist drugs such as liraglutide (Saxenda®) and semaglutide (Wegovy®, Ozempic®, Rybelsus®), reach out to Poison Control immediately to find out what to do. Get a fast personalized recommendation online or call 1-800-222-1222. Both options are free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day.

Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD
Medical Toxicologist

For media inquiries, please contact Krista Osterthaler at osterthaler@poison.org.

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • To maintain a healthy lifestyle, eat a balanced diet, engage in regular physical activity, and get adequate sleep each night.
  • Talk to your doctor before starting a weight loss program.
  • Only take medications that are prescribed for you. Never take other people’s prescription medication.

This Really Happened

A 25-year-old woman took liraglutide, which she had obtained without a prescription, over the course of two months for weight loss purposes. She took the medication in increasing doses until she experienced intolerable nausea and vomiting. She then stopped taking the medication for a month and subsequently restarted it at a lower dose. Within a day of restarting the medication, she developed severe abdominal pain, back pain, and vomiting. She went to an Emergency Department where she was diagnosed with pancreatitis. She was admitted to a hospital and treated with intravenous fluids, pain medications, and antibiotics. Her condition improved within 2 days, and she was able to be discharged from the hospital.

For More Information

New Antiobesity Drugs Help People Shed Dozens of Pounds, but They Must Be Taken for a Lifetime (Scientific American)

Patients seeking anti-obesity drug face ‘unprecedented’ demand, insurance hurdles (Today)


References

AlSaadoun AR, AlSaadoun TR, Al Ghumlas AK. Liraglutide Overdose-Induced Acute Pancreatitis. Cureus. 2022 Jan 25;14(1):e21616.

Astrup A, Rössner S, Van Gaal L, Rissanen A, Niskanen L, Al Hakim M, Madsen J, Rasmussen MF, Lean ME; NN8022-1807 Study Group. Effects of liraglutide in the treatment of obesity: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Lancet. 2009 Nov 7;374(9701):1606-16. 

CDC. Obesity and overweight. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm. Accessed 8.9.22.

Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Approval package for Saxenda Inejection, 3 mg. Available at https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/nda/2014/206321Orig1s000Approv.pdf. Accessed 8.9.22.

FDA. FDA approves new drug treatment for chronic weight management, first since 2014. Available at https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-new-drug-treatment-chronic-weight-management-first-2014. Accessed 8.9.22.

FDA. FDA approves weight management drug for patients aged 12 and older Available at https://www.fda.gov/drugs/news-events-human-drugs/fda-approves-weight-management-drug-patients-aged-12-and-older. Accessed 8.9.22.

Isaacs D, Prasad-Reddy L, Srivastava SB. Role of glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonists in management of obesity. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2016 Oct 1;73(19):1493-507.

Mares AC, Chatterjee S, Mukherjee D. Semaglutide for weight loss and cardiometabolic risk reduction in overweight/obesity. Curr Opin Cardiol. 2022 Jul 1;37(4):350-355.

O'Neil PM, Birkenfeld AL, McGowan B, Mosenzon O, Pedersen SD, Wharton S, Carson CG, Jepsen CH, Kabisch M, Wilding JPH. Efficacy and safety of semaglutide compared with liraglutide and placebo for weight loss in patients with obesity: a randomised, double-blind, placebo and active controlled, dose-ranging, phase 2 trial. Lancet. 2018 Aug 25;392(10148):637-649.

Ozempic Prescribing Information. Novo Nordisk Inc. Plainsboro, New Jersey. Revised March 2022.

Rubino D, Abrahamsson N, Davies M, Hesse D, Greenway FL, Jensen C, Lingvay I, Mosenzon O, Rosenstock J, Rubio MA, Rudofsky G, Tadayon S, Wadden TA, Dicker D; STEP 4 Investigators. Effect of Continued Weekly Subcutaneous Semaglutide vs Placebo on Weight Loss Maintenance in Adults With Overweight or Obesity: The STEP 4 Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2021 Apr 13;325(14):1414-1425.

Rubino DM, Greenway FL, Khalid U, O'Neil PM, Rosenstock J, Sørrig R, Wadden TA, Wizert A, Garvey WT; STEP 8 Investigators. Effect of Weekly Subcutaneous Semaglutide vs Daily Liraglutide on Body Weight in Adults With Overweight or Obesity Without Diabetes: The STEP 8 Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2022 Jan 11;327(2):138-150.

Rybelsus Prescribing Information. Novo Nordisk Inc. Plainsboro, New Jersey. Revised September 2019.

Saxenda Prescribing Information. Novo Nordisk Inc. Plainsboro, New Jersey. Revised June 2022.

Singh G, Krauthamer M, Bjalme-Evans M. Wegovy (semaglutide): a new weight loss drug for chronic weight management. J Investig Med. 2022 Jan;70(1):5-13.

Victoza Prescribing Information. Novo Nordisk Inc. Plainsboro, New Jersey. Revised June 2022.

Wegovy Prescribing Information. Novo Nordisk Inc. Plainsboro, New Jersey. Revised June 2021.

Wilding JPH, Batterham RL, Calanna S, Davies M, Van Gaal LF, Lingvay I, McGowan BM, Rosenstock J, Tran MTD, Wadden TA, Wharton S, Yokote K, Zeuthen N, Kushner RF; STEP 1 Study Group. Once-Weekly Semaglutide in Adults with Overweight or Obesity. N Engl J Med. 2021 Mar 18;384(11):989-1002. 

Wilding JPH, Batterham RL, Davies M, Van Gaal LF, Kandler K, Konakli K, Lingvay I, McGowan BM, Oral TK, Rosenstock J, Wadden TA, Wharton S, Yokote K, Kushner RF; STEP 1 Study Group. Weight regain and cardiometabolic effects after withdrawal of semaglutide: The STEP 1 trial extension. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2022 Aug;24(8):1553-1564.

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • To maintain a healthy lifestyle, eat a balanced diet, engage in regular physical activity, and get adequate sleep each night.
  • Talk to your doctor before starting a weight loss program.
  • Only take medications that are prescribed for you. Never take other people’s prescription medication.

This Really Happened

A 25-year-old woman took liraglutide, which she had obtained without a prescription, over the course of two months for weight loss purposes. She took the medication in increasing doses until she experienced intolerable nausea and vomiting. She then stopped taking the medication for a month and subsequently restarted it at a lower dose. Within a day of restarting the medication, she developed severe abdominal pain, back pain, and vomiting. She went to an Emergency Department where she was diagnosed with pancreatitis. She was admitted to a hospital and treated with intravenous fluids, pain medications, and antibiotics. Her condition improved within 2 days, and she was able to be discharged from the hospital.