Popular Weight Loss Drugs Claimed to Pose Higher Risk of Abdominal Paralysis
Weight loss medications, such as Ozempic, which have been gaining popularity, are reported to increase the risk of severe gastrointestinal problems, including abdominal paralysis, according to a recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).
This study focused on a class of drugs known as GLP-1 agonists, which include weight loss medications like Wegovy, Ozempic, Rybelsus, and Saxenda. Researchers then compared the rates of serious side effects with another class of weight loss medications, bupropion-naltrexone.
Risk of Stomach Paralysis
GLP-1 agonists were associated with an almost fourfold increased risk of stomach paralysis, a ninefold increased risk of pancreatitis, and a fourfold increased risk of intestinal blockage. These conditions could lead individuals taking these drugs to require hospitalization and, depending on the severity, surgery.
“Given the widespread use of these medications, although rare, the potential for these serious side effects should be considered by patients contemplating their use for weight loss,” says lead author Mohit Sodhi, a medical student at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
“The risk-benefit calculation may differ depending on whether patients are using these drugs for diabetes, obesity, or just general weight loss,” he adds. “Healthy individuals may be less willing to accept these potentially severe adverse effects.”
Type 2 Diabetes
Originally developed for managing Type 2 diabetes, GLP-1 agonist “diet drugs” have gained popularity in recent years as a means to shed weight, particularly through “off-label” use.
Saxenda and Wegovy were approved for weight loss in 2020 and 2021. However, the clinical trials used to greenlight them involved too few individuals with a follow-up period that was too short to detect these very rare events, according to the researchers.
Epidemiologist and co-author Mahyar Etminan explained that while there have been anecdotal reports of some patients using these drugs for weight loss and experiencing repeated nausea and vomiting due to stomach paralysis, this study is the first to examine the question on a larger scale.
The authors combed through U.S. patient records to identify people who were prescribed liraglutide or semaglutide, two primary GLP-1 agonists, or bupropion/naltrexone, as well as non-GLP-1 weight loss drugs, to determine how many developed certain digestive conditions.
Their analysis included patients with recent obesity histories but excluded those with diabetes or those already prescribed other antidiabetic medications. Over 5,400 records were included in the final analysis.
The Popularity and Risk of “Diet Drugs”
These GLP-1 agonists, often termed “diet drugs,” have become increasingly popular over the last few years as a means of losing weight. It’s worth noting that they were initially developed for diabetes management.
Saxenda and Wegovy are two notable examples of such medications. They work by mimicking the action of the hormone GLP-1, which regulates blood sugar levels and appetite. While they have shown effectiveness in helping individuals lose weight, the potential risks associated with their use have been a topic of concern.
The Elevated Risks
The study found that individuals using these GLP-1 agonists faced significantly higher risks of experiencing stomach paralysis, pancreatitis, and intestinal obstruction compared to those using alternative weight loss medications.
Stomach paralysis, also known as gastroparesis, can cause symptoms like persistent nausea and vomiting, bloating, and difficulty digesting food. In severe cases, it can lead to malnutrition and the need for hospitalization or surgical intervention.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas and can lead to severe abdominal pain, digestive issues, and in some cases, hospitalization.
Intestinal obstruction, another serious condition, occurs when there’s a blockage in the small or large intestine. It can lead to severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and constipation, requiring medical attention and, in some cases, surgery.
The Importance of Informed Decisions
The findings of this study highlight the importance of informed decision-making when it comes to weight loss medications. Patients considering these drugs should have a clear understanding of the potential risks involved.
While these drugs can offer benefits in terms of weight loss, the study emphasizes that the choice to use them should be made carefully, weighing the potential health risks alongside the desire to shed pounds.
The risks, the study concludes, will vary depending on the patient’s specific health condition and the reason for using these medications. Therefore, open communication between healthcare providers and patients is vital in making well-informed decisions regarding their use.