Risks you should know before taking Ozempic
Apr 26, 2023, 2:00 PM | Updated: Apr 27, 2023, 7:54 am
We’ve all seen the commercials for Ozempic.
The drug has been in the news a lot lately because of shortages.
“Ozempic is a medication that is approved to treat type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Christopher Jones, Medical Director for Diabetes at Intermountain Healthcare. “It has an amazing interaction with the body that also has some positive effects such as weight loss and cardiac protection.”
That’s what caused the Ozempic shortages
We reported in January of this year that diabetes patients have had trouble accessing Ozempic because of its popularity with people using it for weight loss.
“We have felt that in our clinics,” Jones said. “Our patients couldn’t get the right dose or couldn’t get any for some period. It was difficult for their health.”
FDA approval for Ozempic is just for type 2 diabetes, but the same molecule has been packaged in a higher dose and approved for weight loss. That dose is called Wegovy.
Jones explained that “there is distinct clinical data that shows if weight loss happens on Ozempic or semaglutide, the weight loss reverses or people gain a lot of the weight back if the medication is stopped.”
The doctor said that diabetes patients do better when they stay on Ozempic long-term. So far, that is six years since the drug was only approved by the FDA in 2017.
There are some big risks
With all of those benefits, there are risks associated with Ozempic that you should know.
“Ozempic at a small dose is designed to slow down the gut, and it works well that way,” Jones explained. “That’s one of the reasons people lose weight and their sugars are lower.”
“At higher doses, we see more of a risk of the gut slowing so much that they have more and more side effects.” These side effects can include diarrhea, constipation, bloating, nausea. If it gets bad enough, a patient can develop gastroparesis or a frozen gut.
What is frozen gut?
Gastroparesis means paralyzed gut.
“It’s not 100% paralyzed,” Jones explained. “The movement of the intestines and stomach slows down significantly.”
When this gets severe, Jones says it can be life-changing and not in a good way.
Diabetes itself can cause nerve damage to the gut and cause gastroparesis.
“So, if we have somebody who has diabetes and is already getting a small amount of gastroparesis from their disease,” D Jones said, “and then we add in the medication, that could double the problem and now it is a significant problem.”
Jones does believe it’s safe for most people to be on Ozempic long-term, but he says: “A very important message to hear is that you need to work closely with your physician who knows you and cares about you and is helping you to make those decisions about safety.”
Medicare coverage for obesity
Ozempic has some Medicare coverage on certain plans, but only for type 2 diabetes.
Jones explained, “The new movement is to say ‘Medicare: you need to recognize obesity as a disease process and cover it the same way you’re covering other diseases.'”
Jones is in favor of Medicare coverage for obesity.
“Obesity is not just about poor self-control. Obesity really is a disease that needs to be treated as a disease, and the patients suffering from this disease need to have equal treatment.”