Despite what we might read in a pop-up online ad or see in a video in our social media feed, we can’t just pop a pill or take an injection and watch the pounds rapidly drop. But the new prescription drugs may help an estimated 42% of adults and 20% of children in America who are obese.
Hans J. Schmidt, MD, chief of bariatric surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center, provides nine things you need to know about weight-loss drugs.
- Weight loss drugs are not suitable for everyone
Weight-loss drugs are best suited for people:
- With a body mass index, or BMI, greater than 27
- Those who cannot 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, says Dr. Schmidt. These measures are typically taken when someone needs to lose a significant amount of weight and other strategies have not been successful.
- Most medications work by making you feel full
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved drugs for long-term use to treat obesity. Most of these work by making you feel less hungry or fuller. They mimic a gastrointestinal hormone your body makes after you eat a full meal, says Dr. Schmidt. They reduce hunger and change the insulin response, which causes you to stop eating.
- Some diet drugs are diabetes drugs
One type of FDA-approved drug, an injectable drug called semaglutide (Ozempic), first received federal approval in 2017 for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. In 2021, the FDA approved a different type of semaglutide (Wegovy) to treat patients who are overweight just because of their weight. These two drugs are the same drug but given in different doses, says Dr. Schmidt.
- Weight loss drugs are not a quick fix
When prescribed, they work in conjunction with a low-calorie diet and increased physical activity.
- Weight loss drugs can be expensive
Many insurance companies don’t cover them and claim their use is cosmetic and not medically necessary, says Dr. Schmidt. A month’s supply can cost more than $1,000.
- Diet medications can help prevent surgery
Sometimes, weight-loss medications, when combined with diet and exercise, can help a patient avoid bariatric surgery, says Dr. Schmidt.
- Medication may be needed long term
Obesity is a chronic disease, and some people may need to stay in meditation to avoid gaining weight, says Dr. Schmidt.
- Some people shouldn’t take weight loss drugs
Weight-loss drugs shouldn’t be prescribed to people who have had or have a family history of medullary thyroid cancer, says Dr. Schmidt. Anyone with the rare multiple endocrine neoplasia, which affects the body’s glands that produce hormones, is also not a candidate. It’s not even for people with drug allergies.
- Be aware of potential side effects
Many patients stop taking their medications due to side effects. The FDA warns patients to be aware of the more common side effects:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, diarrhea and constipation
Dr. Schmidt hopes that anyone considering weight-loss drugs will consult a trusted physician for diagnosis and appropriate treatment, and not go to the Internet on their own.
For many patients, we may initially be able to prescribe weight-loss drugs instead of surgery, she says. In the future, we anticipate even more progress and development of these drugs, including effective combination drugs that may need to be injected less frequently.
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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 doctor for individual care.
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