Study Reveals Increased Risk of Digestive Problems in Users of Popular Weight Loss Injections


A recent study suggests that individuals using well-known injected medications for weight loss, including Wegovy, Ozempic, Saxenda, and Victoza, may face a higher risk of experiencing serious digestive issues such as stomach paralysis, pancreatitis, and bowel obstructions compared to those using other types of weight loss drugs.

While the study emphasizes that the occurrence of these events in individual patients remains rare, approximately 1% of people taking Ozempic were diagnosed with stomach paralysis. However, due to the surging demand for these drugs, which now has millions of users worldwide, even rare risks could translate into hundreds of thousands of new cases.

Dr. Mahyar Etminan, the lead author of the study and an epidemiologist at the University of British Columbia, stressed, “When you have millions of people using these drugs, you know, a 1% risk still translates to many people who may experience these events.”

The study authors also underscore that these issues are not minor, with bowel obstructions potentially leading to medical emergencies.

Previous reporting by CNN has highlighted cases of stomach paralysis in individuals who had taken these drugs and the absence of specific warnings about this side effect for patients.

The prescribing information for Wegovy and Saxenda does include cautions about various serious side effects, encompassing pancreas inflammation, gallbladder problems, blocked intestines, kidney issues, severe allergic reactions, increased heart rate, suicidal thoughts, and alterations in vision for individuals with diabetes. A warning regarding ileus, or blocked intestines, was recently added to Ozempic’s label.

The labels also specify that the most common side effects include nausea, vomiting, and constipation. They strongly advise individuals with a history of specific types of hereditary thyroid cancers against using these medications.

To conduct the study, researchers at the University of British Columbia examined a random sample of over 16 million insurance claims from a prescription drug database covering approximately 93% of all outpatient prescriptions in the US, filed between 2006 and 2020.

They identified patients who were prescribed two injected drugs, semaglutide and liraglutide, both belonging to a class called GLP-1 agonists, which slow down food passage through the stomach. These drugs assist individuals with diabetes in managing their blood sugar and can lead to significant weight loss, regardless of whether the patient has diabetes.

In 2021, the US FDA approved semaglutide for individuals who are obese without diabetes and only need to lose weight. It is marketed as Ozempic when prescribed for diabetes and as Wegovy for weight loss. Liraglutide has been approved by the FDA as a weight loss medicine since 2014. It is called Victoza when prescribed for diabetes and Saxenda when prescribed for weight management. Even before these drugs were officially approved for weight loss, doctors recognized their benefits and began prescribing them off-label for patients needing to shed pounds.

The researchers then compared the frequency of serious digestive problems in these patients with those taking a different type of weight loss medication, bupropion-naltrexone, which is sold as a pill called Contrave.

Over the years studied, it was found that individuals taking Ozempic and Saxenda were much more likely to develop serious stomach and intestinal problems compared to those taking Contrave.

In absolute terms, the incidence of new cases of stomach paralysis was roughly 1% in the Ozempic group, about 0.7% in the Saxenda group, and approximately 0.3% in the Contrave group. In relative terms, this meant that individuals taking the injected drugs were more than three times as likely to develop stomach paralysis compared to those taking Contrave.

Although there were no bowel obstructions noted in the Ozempic group, the study discovered an incidence of 0.8% in the Saxenda group and 0.17% in the Contrave group. This indicated that bowel obstructions were more than four times as likely in those taking the injected medications compared to those on Contrave.

Regarding pancreatitis, there was an incidence of 0.5% in individuals taking Ozempic, 0.8% in those taking Saxenda, and a 0.01% incidence in those taking Contrave, representing an over ninefold increase.

The study has its limitations as it is observational and cannot prove causation. However, the researchers took steps to minimize potential biases in their results.

While the study findings provide valuable insights, they are not the final word on the matter. It is important for patients and healthcare providers to weigh the benefits and risks when considering the use of these medications.

Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of both Ozempic and Saxenda, has emphasized its confidence in the safety and efficacy of its GLP-1 medications when used according to approved indications and product labeling.

In conclusion, the study's findings shed light on potential risks associated with popular weight loss injections, urging regulators and drug manufacturers to reevaluate warning labels and provide patients with critical information for informed decisions about their use.