What are injectable weight loss medications I keep hearing about?
This class of drugs is commonly called GLP-1 agonists which stands for glucagon-like peptide 1. Since 2005 this drug class has been used to treat type 2 diabetes to help to improve blood sugar control and has also led to weight loss.
Drugs in the GLP-1 agonists class are generally taken by injection. Typically, the patient administers the shot themselves at home, but this can also be administered in a clinic setting. These medications are given daily or weekly and include:
once per day
taken by mouth once daily
All of the above injectable medications come in an injection pen. With Wegovy and Trulicity a needle is already in place, making the injection simple. You would press the injection pen in the appropriate administration location (abdomen or outer thigh) and press the injection button as you hold in place. With Ozempic, Victoza, Saxenda, Byetta one must place a new needle on device each time you use.
Which GLP-1 medications are currently approved by the FDA for weight loss?
As of Summer 2023, Wegovy (semaglutide) and Saxenda ( liraglutide ) are approved for weight loss. With that being said, some people have been using Ozempic (semaglutide) off label (only approved by the FDA for type 2 diabetes) but insurance will not cover Ozempic unless you have type 2 diabetes, so it is very expensive to pay out of pocket.
How do these medications work for weight loss?
These medications slow the movement of food from the stomach into the small intestine and as a result, you may feel full faster and longer, so you eat less.
What are side effects to these medications?
The most common side effects are upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation. Most people tolerate the medications fairly well but may have some symptoms the day of the injection or 1-2 days after. The side effects usually get better as your body gets used to the medication. Less common side effects include inflammation of your pancreas (pancreatitis), gallbladder problems, allergic reaction, kidney problems, possible thyroid tumors, including cancer.
How long do I need to take them?
GLP-1 medications are intended to support your metabolic health in the long run, so it’s important that you continue to take them as long as your provider recommends them and you wish to receive their health benefits. If you stop taking them you can regain weight, so it is important to discuss with your prescribing provider before stopping. Having a plan and keeping up the healthy habits to lose weight is important for weight loss maintenance. People stopping these medications abruptly, without making any diet, and/or lifestyle changes tend to regain weight once the medication is stopped.
Would this be right for me?
While this a new and exciting weight loss treatment option, there is still a lot of information becoming available. Please schedule a visit with an obesity specialist to make sure it would be safe and there are no contraindications. If your insurance plan does not cover one of these medications, and it is too expensive to pay out of pocket (they can be very expensive), there are other medications that could benefit you on your weight loss journey that can be more affordable.