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One in three Americans has obesity. Many want to do something about it but find it hard to make a lasting change. More than half of diets fail, often because those on them don’t have the right support.

With new medications targeting obesity and chronic conditions associated with obesity, this time could be different.

There are now ten prescription medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for weight loss and related ailments, six of which can be used long-term. (See more information about these medications below.) When taken as prescribed, in conjunction with diet and exercise modifications, and under the supervision of a doctor, the results can be life-changing.

Keep in mind that each prescription weight loss medication carries its own possible risks and benefits. This is why it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider about your medical history and health goals to see which medication may be right for you.

How does it work?

Each of the FDA-approved medications work in a slightly different way to support weight loss. Some may reduce your appetite while others may make it harder for your body to absorb fat from the foods that you eat.

It is important to note that these medications are not a replacement for exercise and a healthy diet. In fact, if you’re prescribed a weight-loss medication, your healthcare provider may recommend certain behavioral modifications, including a diet and exercise program, to help you reap the most benefits from the medication.

Everyone is different and it’s important to find the right healthcare provider, medication, and diet and exercise program for you.

How to know if weight loss medication is right for you

Most adults with health conditions associated with their weight are eligible for weight loss medication. These conditions include type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, among others.

To be eligible for prescription weight loss medication, you must also meet a certain Body-Mass Index (BMI) threshold. If you don’t have a health condition associated with your weight, you must have a BMI of at least 30. If you do have a health condition associated with your weight, your BMI must be 27 or higher.

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Which medications are approved for online medical weight loss?

Ozempic injection Pen

Ozempic

Semaglutide

Semaglutide works by helping the pancreas regulate the amount of insulin that is released when blood-sugar levels are high. The medication, which is injected, also works to slow the movement of food through the digestive system, decreasing appetite. Semaglutide was first approved in 2017 under the brand name Ozempic as a treatment for type 2 diabetes.

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Side Effects

Common possible side effects of semaglutide include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Burping

Serious side effects are also possible. These include:

  • Ongoing pain that begins in the upper left or middle of the stomach but can spread to the back
  • Rash or itching
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, mouth, tongue or throat
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Swelling of the ankles, legs, or feet
  • Decreased urination
  • Vision changes
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Pain in the upper stomach
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Rapid heartbeat

 

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Dosages

For weight loss, your provider will start you on a low dose of the injectable semaglutide and gradually increase the dose over several weeks. Recommended starting dosage is 0.25 per week for the first four weeks, 0.5 mg per week for weeks 5-8, 1 mg per week for weeks 9-12, 1.7 mg per week for weeks 13-16, and 2.4 mg per week from week 17 and beyond.

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Interactions

It’s important to tell your provider about any prescription or OTC medications you’re taking before starting semaglutide. Types of medications that can interact with semaglutide include other incretin mimetics, insulin, and sulfonylureas.

Wegovy injection Pen

Wegovy

Semaglutide

In 2021, a higher dose of semaglutide marketed under the name Wegovy was approved by the FDA specifically for weight loss.

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Side Effects

Common possible side effects of semaglutide include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Burping

Serious side effects are also possible. These include:

  • Ongoing pain that begins in the upper left or middle of the stomach but can spread to the back
  • Rash or itching
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, mouth, tongue or throat
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Swelling of the ankles, legs, or feet
  • Decreased urination
  • Vision changes
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Pain in the upper stomach
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Rapid heartbeat

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Dosages

For weight loss, your provider will start you on a low dose of the injectable semaglutide and gradually increase the dose over several weeks. Recommended starting dosage is 0.25 per week for the first four weeks, 0.5 mg per week for weeks 5-8, 1 mg per week for weeks 9-12, 1.7 mg per week for weeks 13-16, and 2.4 mg per week from week 17 and beyond.

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Interactions

It’s important to tell your provider about any prescription or OTC medications you’re taking before starting semaglutide. Types of medications that can interact with semaglutide include other incretin mimetics, insulin, and sulfonylureas.

Saxenda injection Pen

Saxenda

Liraglutide

Like semaglutide, liraglutide also works by regulating insulin secretion and slowing food through the digestive system to reduce appetite. It is also injected.

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Side Effects

Liraglutide can cause changes in your blood sugar. It’s important to tell your provider if you have a history of high or low blood sugar before taking this medication. Other possible side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Runny nose, sneezing, or cough
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble urinating
  • Pain while urinating
  • Pain or redness at the injection site

Additional serious side effects include:

  • Ongoing pain that starts in the upper left or middle of the stomach but can spread to the back
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Yellow eyes or skin
  • Heart pounding
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, mouth, tongue, or throat

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Dosages

Liraglutide is an injectable medication. When taking for weight loss, dosage starts at 0.6 mg a day for the first week. After the first week, your provider may increase your dosage by 0.6 mg per week until you reach the recommended dosage of 3 mg per day. If increasing the dosage causes unwanted side effects, your provider may delay dose escalation by one additional week.

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Interactions

Liraglutide may interact with other medications, vitamins, or supplements, especially other incretin mimetics like dulaglutide (Trulicity), exenatide (Byetta), and semaglutide (Ozempic). It may also cause an interaction if you drink large amounts of alcohol when taking the medication. This is why it’s important to tell your provider about any prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications you’re currently taking as well as your alcohol drinking habits.

Medication bottle

Others

Four additional weight loss medications are approved by the FDA for short-term use (up to 12 weeks) only. These drugs include phentermine, benzphetamine, diethylpropion, and phendimetrazine. Because some of these drugs can be habit forming, it’s important to take them exactly as prescribed and never to share them with another person.

Learn more about online medical weight loss

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