Touro Pharmacy Experts Answer Most Commonly-Asked Questions

By Anastasiya Shor and Henry Cohen

It seems everyone is taking Ozempic or Wegovy as a quick way to take off those pesky extra pounds. From Hollywood to suburbia, it’s become a not-so-hidden secret for those looking to lose weight. But are they safe? What are the potential side effects of long-term use? Semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy, was originally approved to treat type 2 diabetes mellitus as Ozempic, and later approved for treatment of obesity as Wegovy. The soaring demand has resulted in worldwide medication shortages and an increase in counterfeit products. Before you start—or continue—to take the medication, here are some important facts you should know.

How do Wegovy and Ozempic work? Both drugs act like the natural hormone Glucagon-like Peptide 1 (GLP-1), that is made after eating. They cause the body to digest food more slowly, feel full, and eat less by suppressing hunger cues in the brain. Over the course of 68 weeks, a clinical study observed the effects of Wegovy on overweight adults with related health conditions who ate a reduced calorie diet and exercised. Eighty three percent of study participants lost 5% or more of their starting weight, 66% lost 10%, and 48% lost 15% or more. Only thirty one percent of participants who did not receive Wegovy, but followed a reduced calorie diet and exercised lost 5% or more of their starting weight. Wegovy works best in combination with a reduced calorie diet and regular exercise; it works better than diet and exercise alone. Everyone responds to treatment differently so your results may not be exactly the same as your friend’s.

Is semaglutide approved for weight loss? Ozempic injection was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017 to reduce the blood sugar of people with type 2 diabetes mellitus. An oral version, Rybelsus, came out shortly afterward. Wegovy injection, is only approved for weight loss in people who are overweight (Body Mass Index [BMI] of 27 kg/m2 or more) with at least one other related health issue (such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure) or for those who are obese (BMI of 30 kg/m2 or more), following a reduced calorie diet, and exercising regularly.

What are the most common side effects of semaglutide? The side effects of semaglutide are more likely to occur with higher doses, and nausea and constipation are the most common. In Wegovy clinical trials, the most common side effects included: nausea (44%) and vomiting (24%), diarrhea (30%), constipation (24%), abdominal pain (20%), headache (14%), increases in the heart rate, allergic reactions, low blood sugar, gallbladder inflammation and stones, and pancreatic inflammation, and bleeding. There have also been several reports of kidney injury. Changes in mood and behavior, including worsening depression and suicidal thoughts, have occurred but were uncommon. If you have concerns about side effects, it is best to contact your doctor or pharmacist immediately.

A boxed-warning in the prescribing information for Wegovy warns about the risk of thyroid C-cell tumors. Wegovy should not be taken by patients with a personal or family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma.

What happens if someone stops taking Wegovy? Simply put, you may gain the weight back. A separate study observed effects of Wegovy on adults who were obese or overweight and had another related health condition. Study participants who continued to take Wegovy weeks continued to lose weight and those who stopped taking it, gained weight.

Can Ozempic and Wegovy prevent heart attacks? Ozempic has been shown to reduce risk of heart attack, stroke, and death in people with type 2 diabetes mellitus and heart disease. Wegovy has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death in overweight adults with cardiovascular (heart and/or blood vessel) disease. This benefit has not been established in people without cardiovascular disease who are overweight or obese and taking Wegovy.

How can I make sure the product I am using is not counterfeit? Medications purchased from suspicious websites or sources are not tested for safety, efficacy, or purity. To ensure your safety, always obtain a prescription from your doctor and purchase all medications from a licensed pharmacy.

What is the cost of Ozempic and Wegovy? If you purchase these medications out-of-pocket, Ozempic could cost around $1,200 per month, while Wegovy could cost around $1,600 per month. Semaglutide compounded by pharmacists may be less expensive but should only be purchased in an accredited compounding pharmacy.

 

Anastasiya Shor, PharmD, BCPS, is Director of Drug Information Center at Touro College of Pharmacy and Henry Cohen, PharmD, MSc, FCCM is Dean and Professor at Touro College of Pharmacy.

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