A recent study published on Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has revealed that drugs like Ozempic, which have gained popularity for their effectiveness in weight loss, come with an elevated risk of severe gastrointestinal issues, including stomach paralysis. The study specifically examined a class of medications known as GLP-1 agonists, encompassing brands such as Wegovy, Ozempic, Rybelsus, and Saxenda, and compared their rate of serious side effects with another class of weight loss drugs, bupropion-naltrexone.
The findings indicated that GLP-1 agonists raised the risk of stomach paralysis by nearly four times, pancreatitis by nine times, and bowel obstruction by four times. These issues might require hospitalization and surgery, depending on how serious they are.
Mohit Sodhi, the study's lead author and a medical student at the University of British Columbia, stressed that because these drugs are widely used, people considering them for weight loss should be aware of the rare but significant adverse events. He also noted that the risk assessment would vary depending on whether the patient is using these drugs for diabetes, obesity, or general weight loss, with otherwise healthy individuals possibly being less inclined to accept the potential serious adverse events.
Initially designed to treat Type 2 diabetes, GLP-1 agonists have become increasingly popular as a weight loss method, frequently used "off-label." While Saxenda and Wegovy gained approval for weight loss in 2020 and 2021, researchers cited limited participants and short follow-up periods in their clinical trials, hindering the detection of extremely rare events.
Epidemiologist and co-author Mahyar Etminan mentioned that although there were some individual reports of patients using these drugs for weight loss experiencing nausea and vomiting due to stomach paralysis, this study was the first to comprehensively examine this problem on a larger scale. The study involved examining US patient records to identify individuals prescribed liraglutide or semaglutide (the two primary GLP-1 agonists) or bupropion/naltrexone (a non-GLP-1 weight loss medication) to determine how many developed specific gastrointestinal conditions. The study included people with recent obesity but excluded those with diabetes or on other diabetes medications. It analyzed just over 5,400 patient records.
Simon Cork, a senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University not connected to the study, highlighted the significance of patients getting these drugs from trusted healthcare providers and receiving continuous support. He also emphasized the necessity for more stringent regulations to ensure these drugs are prescribed appropriately.