About Diabetes Weight Loss Drugs
- The use of diabetes medications for weight loss, including Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro, has led to massive shortages nationwide.
- Wegovy is the only medication with semaglutide that’s approved to treat obesity. Yet, Ozempic, another drug with the same ingredient approved to treat Type 2 diabetes, is widely used for weight loss.
- Research has shown rare but serious side effects of diabetes weight loss drugs. Semaglutide and tirzepatide medications contain FDA warnings about possible side effects when used to treat diabetes, but some of the more serious dangers are not included on the packaging.
- The first diabetes drug lawsuit was filed in August 2023. With the widespread use of and severe side effects of diabetes medications for weight loss, more lawsuits are expected.
Diabetes Weight Loss Drugs FAQs
How do semaglutide and tirzepatide diabetes medications work?
Semaglutide (Ozempic and Wegovy) and tirzepatide (Mounjaro) are GLP-1 receptor agonists and GIP/GLP-1 receptor co-agonists. They activate the release of insulin after eating, affect the liver by lowering how much glucagon it makes, and slow down the movement of food in the stomach. Diabetes drugs help with weight loss because they make patients feel full for longer, reduce the amount they eat, and reduce how hungry they feel.
What do GIP/GLP-1 and GLP-1 stand for?
Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and gastric inhibitory peptide/glucagon-like peptide-1 (GIP/GLP-1) medications are used to treat Type 2 diabetes. They help lower blood sugar levels while also helping with weight loss and are used in combination with other treatments and lifestyle habits to manage Type 2 diabetes.
What diabetes drugs are approved for weight loss?
Only two diabetes medications are approved for weight loss by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including Wegovy. Neither Ozempic nor Mounjaro are approved for weight loss, but many doctors are prescribing them off-label for this use which has led to massive shortages of the drugs.
Who can take diabetes drugs for weight loss?
Technically, doctors may prescribe diabetes drugs for weight loss to anyone. However, to qualify to take Wegovy, an approved drug that treats obesity, patients must either have a BMI of 30 or higher or have a BMI of 27 alongside other serious medical conditions.
What are the side effects of Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro?
Several mild gastrointestinal side effects of semaglutide and tirzepatide have been reported and are noted on their packaging. However, there are also dangerous health effects, including stomach paralysis, pancreatitis, thyroid tumors, gallbladder disease, and acute kidney injury, but the warnings don’t cover all of these adverse events.
Are there long-term health effects of diabetes medications for weight loss?
The first medication with semaglutide approved for use to treat Type 2 diabetes was approved in 2005, so the long-term health effects of these drugs are still largely unknown. Because of this, doctors weigh the benefits and needs of their patients when prescribing drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro.
Is weight loss from diabetes drugs permanent?
In general, studies show weight loss from diabetes drugs is mostly gained back after patients stop taking the medication.
Table of Contents
- 1 About Diabetes Weight Loss Drugs
- 2 Diabetes Weight Loss Drugs FAQs
- 3 Diabetes Drugs Are Being Used for Weight Loss
- 4 Are Diabetes Weight Loss Drugs Dangerous?
- 5 Side Effects of Diabetes Drugs for Weight Loss
- 6 How Do Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro Treat Diabetes?
- 7 Benefits of Diabetes Drugs
- 8 Diabetes Drugs Clinical Trials and Research
- 9 Diabetes Drugs Lawsuits
Diabetes Drugs Are Being Used for Weight Loss
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 40% of adults in the United States are obese. Obesity is considered a complex disease, and because of this, managing and treating it requires lifelong lifestyle and dietary habits. In many cases, medication is also needed to treat obesity.
The FDA approved the use of semaglutide and tirzepatide to treat Type 2 diabetes less than two decades ago. With the popularity and the sheer number of Type 2 diabetes patients taking Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro – three drugs that contain semaglutide or tirzepatide – evidence of their weight loss effects began piling up. As a result, non-diabetics who were overweight or obese started using the diabetes drugs off-label.
While Wegovy is approved for treating obesity in patients who meet certain criteria, Ozempic and Mounjaro are not. However, consumer interest grew quickly, and countless doctors across the U.S. now prescribe diabetes drugs for weight loss, which has caused shortages since early 2023.
The popularity of Ozempic and Wegovy significantly increased over the past five years, and the reason consumers are taking semaglutide changed considerably during that time. Previously, 90% of patients taking semaglutide drugs had Type 2 diabetes, compared to just 58% five years later. This indicates a significant change in what doctors are prescribing diabetes drugs for.
Compared to other types of weight loss drugs, Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro may be more effective because they not only affect the brain by suppressing appetite but they keep food in the stomach for longer. But for the most part, when a patient stops taking semaglutide or tirzepatide diabetes drugs, they gain back the majority of the weight they lost.
Unless medication is being used as intended, health insurance doesn’t cover it; consumers taking Ozempic or Mounjaro for weight loss pay around $1,000 per month out of pocket. Wegovy is approved to manage obesity, and some drug plans cover the costs, but not all; many insurers simply don’t cover any type of weight loss medication, regardless of whether or not it’s approved and used to treat a condition like obesity.
Are Diabetes Weight Loss Drugs Dangerous?
Most medications carry some form of risk to consumers, though it’s usually only a small fraction of people who may have an adverse reaction. They’re prescribed and recommended based on how to treat an individual’s health conditions, other medications they take, and their overall health.
When diabetes drugs are taken for weight loss but aren’t approved by the FDA for this purpose, the dangers of using them are unclear; after all, off-label medication use could have minor to serious risks, and the warnings to consumers don’t cover the use of the drug beyond its intended purpose.
There have been reports of minor to life-threatening health effects caused by Ozempic, Mounjaro, and Wegovy. In August, the first diabetes drug lawsuit was filed against manufacturers of semaglutide and tirzepatide, citing failure to warn of the severe risk of gastroparesis.
Side Effects of Diabetes Drugs for Weight Loss
The health effects of diabetes weight loss drugs containing semaglutide or tirzepatide are extensive. Mild side effects of diabetes medications for weight loss last only days or weeks, but in some cases, they’re lasting and cause serious health problems.
A significant number of patients who take Ozempic, Wegovy, or Mounjaro have to stop using the drugs due to side effects that don’t go away. Some doctors report that 10% of their patients must be taken off the diabetes drug because of side effects or risks that outweigh the benefits of continued use.
Given the hormone they mimic, gastrointestinal issues are the most commonly reported side effects of semaglutide and tirzepatide. These include vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nausea.
Rare but serious side effects of diabetes drugs for weight loss can hospitalize patients. Gastroparesis (stomach paralysis), pancreatitis, and gallbladder issues are dangerous effects of Ozempic and similar GIP/GPL-1 and GPL-1 medications.
Since the gastrointestinal system and the brain are uniquely connected, there are also risks of Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro causing other types of health issues. How? The physical gastrointestinal side effects of diabetes drugs for weight loss can cause anxiety, stress, and depression. It can decrease energy levels and cause negative moods.
Gastroparesis Caused by Diabetes Drugs
Some doctors have reported an extremely dangerous side effect they believe to be caused by diabetes drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro: gastroparesis (stomach paralysis). Gastroparesis occurs when the body’s stomach muscles don’t contract the way they naturally should, causing food to stay in the stomach instead of moving it through the digestive tract. It causes significant pain, nausea, and vomiting and prevents normal and healthy digestion.
Total paralysis of the stomach muscles doesn’t need to occur for it to cause symptoms; slowing down the way the muscles should contract can lead to food staying in the stomach far longer than it should be, leading to complications.
There are several serious complications of gastroparesis, including dehydration, malnutrition (too few calories or an inability to absorb vital nutrients), and blood sugar levels that frequently change, which can be extremely dangerous for people with diabetes. Food hardening in the stomach can also occur and can be life-threatening if it blocks food from passing into the small intestine.
Pancreatitis Caused by Diabetes Medications
Another possible health effect of diabetes medications is pancreatitis. Research has found that patients who don’t have diabetes but are taking semaglutide are at a greater risk of developing pancreatitis than those taking other weight loss medications. Studies have also shown that compared to other sugar-control medications, diabetics taking GLP-1 medications are twice as likely to be hospitalized from pancreatitis.
The pancreas becomes inflamed, causing pain and swelling, and it may even affect how other organs and tissues work. Other symptoms of pancreatitis include tenderness in the belly, vomiting, fever, upset stomach, and rapid pulse.
Over time, pancreatitis can cause damage to the pancreas, the organ that helps digest food and regulate blood sugars. Some cases of pancreatitis require hospitalization and can be life-threatening; kidney failure, respiratory problems, infections, malnutrition, and pancreatic cancer are a few of the serious complications of pancreatitis.
Gallbladder Issues Caused by Diabetes Medications
GIP/GPL-1 and GPL-1 diabetes medications like Wegovy have been linked to gallbladder disease, including cholelithiasis and cholecystitis. Many patients have needed to get the organ removed as a result of their gallbladder issues.
Sudden inflammation of the gallbladder is typically caused by gallstones that block the tube that exits the gallbladder. Gallstones can be very painful, radiating from the abdomen to the back or right shoulder. Cholecystitis has many of the same symptoms, along with vomiting, fever, and nausea. Hospitalization is often required when gallbladder issues occur.
Malnourishment from Diabetes Drugs
Some doctors have reported patients who became malnourished after using GIL/GPL-1 and GPL-1 diabetes medications. Malnourishment from diabetes drugs may occur because it suppresses the appetite so much that patients on the medication don’t eat enough and, therefore, don’t consume enough nutrients. Being malnourished can lead to several health complications and can even be life-threatening.
How Do Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro Treat Diabetes?
The small intestine contains hormones that affect the body’s glucose levels. GIP/GLP-1 receptor co-agonists (Mounjaro) and GLP-1 receptor agonists (Wegovy and Ozempic) mimic what these hormones do, which helps control glucose levels in people with Type 2 diabetes.
Taken once per week, semaglutide and tirzepatide medications are injected subcutaneously and administered in the thigh, abdomen, or upper arm. Injecting semaglutide or tirzepatide into the fatty tissue under the skin triggers a hormone-like response, keeping blood sugar levels low.
Benefits of Diabetes Drugs
Tirzepatide was originally developed to help Type 2 diabetes patients by lowering blood glucose levels, increasing insulin production, making them feel full for longer, and speeding up weight loss. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight when diabetic is important, and drugs like Mounjaro address several risks and complications of the disease. For many people with type 2 diabetes, GIP/GPL-1 and GPL-1 diabetes drugs have improved their lives.
Throughout consumer use, tirzepatide has been shown to have other benefits. These include cardiovascular protection and weight management. The discovery of weight loss side effects from diabetes drugs like Mounjaro and Ozempic is a definite benefit – but not if shortages continue to make the drug unreliable for those who genuinely need it.
Diabetes Drugs Clinical Trials and Research
Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of the diabetes medication Mounjaro, has conducted extensive trials on the efficacy of their drug for people with obesity. Recent results of the SURMOUNT-4 tirzepatide trial showed significant weight loss among participants.
All participants took tirzepatide for 36 weeks; the mean weight loss was 21.1%. After that, half were given a placebo, and the other half continued taking the drug for an additional 52 weeks. Participants who took tirzepatide for the full 88 weeks of the trial saw a 25.3% mean body weight loss. In contrast, participants who stopped taking tirzepatide for the remaining 52 weeks experienced a mean weight regain of 14.8%.
The results of Eli Lilly’s research showed that Mounjaro is effective for significant weight loss among people with obesity. It’s important to note that the study only included people who don’t have diabetes.
However, doctors have warned that the long-term impact of diabetes drugs is unknown and have raised concerns about using semaglutide or tirzepatide in this way. And yet, for these types of diabetes medications to be effective for weight loss, consumers must stay on them – or risk gaining it all back.
Diabetes Drugs Lawsuits
A lawsuit was filed in August 2023 against Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Ozempic, and Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of Mounjaro. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana and is the first of its kind involving GLP-1 and GIP/GLP-1 Type 2 diabetes medications.
The diabetes drugs lawsuit alleges the manufacturers failed to warn or adequately warn consumers of the risk of stomach paralysis. The plaintiff is taking legal action for severe gastrointestinal events that occurred after using first Ozempic, then Mounjaro. She has Type 2 diabetes.
The adverse events the plaintiff suffered included vomiting, stomach pain, lost teeth (from vomiting so much), and gastrointestinal burning. She was hospitalized multiple times because of the side effects of diabetes medications, currently popular for their weight loss effects.
The basis of the diabetes drugs lawsuit is that a major risk, gastroparesis, isn’t listed as a possible adverse reaction on the labels of either Ozempic or Mounjaro. However, these medications work in that they delay gastric emptying, a common cause of gastroparesis.
There are international, widespread claims that diabetes weight loss drugs cause gastroparesis. The seriousness of rare but severe side effects of Ozempic and similar drugs is expected to lead to more lawsuits.