How Does Ozempic Work?

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
September 9, 2022

Ozempic (semaglutide) is a brand-name prescription medication for people with type 2 diabetes to use alongside healthy eating and exercise to improve blood sugar levels. Although not FDA-approved for weight loss, Ozempic may help people with type 2 diabetes lose weight. During clinical trials, adults lost an average of 9-12 lbs in 56 weeks while taking Ozempic. 

This article discusses Ozempic and how it may help with weight loss. You can learn how it works, as well as potential risks and side effects, so you can make an informed decision about whether it’s right for you. 

What is Ozempic?

Ozempic is a prescription medication that people with type 2 diabetes can take to:

  • Control their blood sugar levels along with diet and exercise
  • Lower the risk of serious cardiovascular problems and stroke for those with cardiovascular diseases

This medication is not designed to treat type 1 diabetes, diabetic ketoacidosis, or for use by people who have experienced pancreatitis. People with type 2 diabetes can take Ozempic alone or in combination with other diabetes medications as prescribed by their healthcare provider.

Ozempic is a liquid medication developed as a subcutaneous injection. It comes in pre-filled disposable pens that a person can use to self-inject the medication once a week. 

The medication comes in three strengths:

  • 2 milligrams of semaglutide in 1.5 milliliters of solution (2 mg/1.5 mL)
  • 4 mg/3 mL
  • 8 mg/3 mL

How Does Ozempic Work?

Ozempic is part of the class of drugs known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists. 

It has several mechanisms of action, including:

  • Binding to GLP-1 receptors and stimulates the pancreas to release insulin when blood sugar starts to rise, which reduces blood sugar and A1C levels
  • Reduces how much sugar the liver releases
  • Slows down food leaving the stomach to help prevent spikes in blood sugar

Through these different mechanisms of action, Ozempic can help people with type 2 diabetes manage their health condition.

Ozempic and Weight Loss

Currently, Ozempic is not approved by the Food and Drug Association (FDA) for weight loss. However, you may lose weight by taking it to treat type 2 diabetes. 

The FDA is currently reviewing Ozempic as a once-weekly shot to help with weight loss when used alongside exercise and healthy eating. This new approval by the FDA would make Ozempic the second medication in its class approved for assisting with weight loss in adults experiencing overweight or obesity.

GLP-1 agonists like Ozempic help to keep blood sugar in a healthy range. This class of medications is associated with weight loss in studies. The key hormone associated with GLP-1 slows down gastric emptying, which is how quickly your stomach empties food into the small intestine.

You may feel less hungry when you don’t experience large swings in blood sugar and have slower gastric emptying. This may help you to eat less and lose weight. 

Who Can Take Ozempic for Weight Loss?

Ozempic is only approved for use by adults who have type 2 diabetes. 

People with the following should not take Ozempic:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis 
  • Previous pancreatitis

How Long Does It Take to Lose Weight on Ozempic?

People taking Ozempic usually need to slowly work up to the target dose before they see weight loss. During clinical trials, participants had their dose increased every four weeks until they reached the target dose of 2.4 mg once a week. In phase three of the trial, researchers measured the outcomes of the participants at 20 weeks. Most of the participants had reached their goal dose and had experienced weight loss as their dose was increased. Over the remaining 48 weeks, some participants continued to see additional weight loss.

Weight loss can take time. It’s important to remember that you’ll see the best results when you take the medication as ordered and in combination with regular exercise and a healthy eating plan. 

Side Effects of Ozempic

Common Side Effects

The most common side effects of Ozempic include:

If you experience stomach discomfort, try some of these tips for relief:

  • Eat bland, low-fat foods like rice, crackers, and bread
  • Eat foods that contain water like soups, broths, and jello
  • Avoid greasy, fried, or sweet foods
  • Avoid laying down after you eat
  • Eat slowly
  • Drink clear and ice-cold drinks

Possible side effects

Less common side effects include:

  • Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Changes in vision
  • Low blood sugar
  • Kidney problems
  • Allergic reactions
  • Gallbladder problems

Serious Side Effects

Ozempic often doesn’t cause serious side effects. But, when it does, serious side effects may include possible thyroid tumors, including cancer. 

Tell your provider right away if you experience:

Risks and Warnings

Before using Ozempic, tell your medical provider if you have any other medical conditions, including:

  • A current or past problem with your pancreas or kidneys
  • History of diabetic retinopathy
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding or planning to become pregnant or breastfeed

Do not use Ozempic if you or a family member have ever had medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) or an endocrine system condition called Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN 2). 

When to See a Medical Provider

Let your medical provider know if you are considering Ozempic for your type 2 diabetes management. There are several options for managing type 2 diabetes. Your medical provider can discuss Ozempic in more detail with you and review your health history to help you decide if Ozempic is right for you.  

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable virtual primary care with K Health?

Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and is based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does Ozempic help you lose weight?
Ozempic mimics a natural hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). GLP-1 slows down the process of the stomach emptying into the small intestines (gastric emptying). When this process slows down, you may feel full and not eat as much food throughout the day.
How long can you take Ozempic for weight loss?
Ozempic is still in clinical trials as a weight loss medication, but it is approved for treating type 2 diabetes. In the clinical trials, people with type 2 diabetes who took Ozempic lost an average of 9-12 pounds over the course of 56 weeks. This indicates that Ozempic may not cause immediate weight loss; rather, weight loss can happen over time.
What exactly does Ozempic do?
Ozempic helps people with type 2 diabetes improve their blood sugar and lower their hemoglobin A1C. It also lowers the risk of major cardiovascular disease and stroke in people with type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Ozempic may also help people with type 2 diabetes lose weight.
What does Ozempic do to the stomach?
Some people who take Ozempic experience digestive side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.

K Health logo (used on certain page templates)