9 Things to Know About Weight Loss Drugs   

9 Things to Know About Weight Loss Drugs

Man preparing Ozempic injection control blood sugar levels and obesity.
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Hans J Schmidt, M.D.

Despite what we might read in a pop-up online ad or see in a video in our social media feed, we can’t simply take a pill or get a shot and watch the pounds quickly “fall off.” But newer prescription medications can help the estimated 42 percent of adults and 20 percent of children in America who are obese.

Hans J. Schmidt, M.D., chief of Bariatric Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center, provides nine things you need to know about weight-loss medications.

  1. Weight-loss Medications Are Not Suitable for Everyone

Weight-loss medications are best suited for people: 

  • With a body mass index, or BMI, over 27 
  • Who can’t lose weight with diet and exercise, special programs or structured meetings 

“We wouldn’t normally put a person who wanted to lose just 10 pounds on meds,” Dr. Schmidt says. “These measures are typically taken when someone needs to lose a significant amount of weight, and other strategies have not been successful.” 

  1. Most Medications Work by Making You Feel Full

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved medications for long-term use to treat obesity. Most of these work by making you feel less hungry or more full. “They mimic a gastrointestinal hormone your body produces after eating a full meal,” Dr. Schmidt says. “They reduce hunger, and change your insulin response, which causes you to stop eating.”

  1. Some Weight-loss Medications Are Diabetes Medications 

One type of FDA-approved medication, an injectable drug called semaglutide (Ozempic), first received federal approval in 2017 for treatment of type 2 diabetes. In 2021, the FDA approved a different type of semaglutide (Wegovy) to treat overweight patients for their weight alone. “These two medications are the same drug but given in different doses,” says Dr. Schmidt.

  1. Weight-loss Medication Isn’t a “Quick Fix” 

When prescribed, they work in conjunction with a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity. 

  1. Weight-loss Drugs Can Be Expensive 

Many insurance companies don’t cover them and claim their use is “cosmetic” and not medically necessary, Dr. Schmidt says. One month’s supply may cost more than $1,000. 

  1. Weight-loss Medication May Help Prevent Surgery

Sometimes, weight-loss medication, when combined with diet and exercise, can help a patient avoid bariatric surgery, Dr. Schmidt says. 

  1. Medication May Be Needed for the Long Term

Obesity is a chronic disease, and some people may need to stay on medication to prevent gaining weight back, Dr. Schmidt says. 

  1. Certain People Should Not Take Weight-loss Medication

Weight-loss medication should not be prescribed to people who have had, or have a family history of, medullary thyroid cancer, Dr. Schmidt says. Anyone with the rare condition multiple endocrine neoplasia, which affects the body’s hormone producing glands, also is not a candidate. It’s also not for those allergic to the medications. 

  1. Be Aware of Potential Side Effects

Many patients stop taking the medications because of side effects. The FDA cautions patients to be aware of more common side effects:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, diarrhea and constipation
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

Dr. Schmidt hopes anyone considering weight-loss medications will consult a trusted doctor for diagnosis and appropriate treatment, and not go it alone on the internet. 

“For many patients, we can initially prescribe weight-loss medication instead of surgery,” he says. “In the future, we expect even more advances and development of these drugs, including effective combination medications that might need to be injected less frequently.” 

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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